Clean Water Action Plan

June 2008

Executive Summary

Target Areas:

  • Water Quality Management (Permitting, Monitoring, Standards, and Trading)
  • Provision of Safe Drinking Water (Source Protection, Production, and Delivery)
  • Prevention and Control of Pollution from Agriculture and Rural Areas

Main Activities:

  • Design of Overall Framework of China-US Cooperation on Clean Water
  • Evaluation and Analysis of Clean Water Policies
  • Assessment and Transfer of Clean Water Technologies
  • Study Programs
  • Performance Evaluation of the Study Programs

Participating Agencies:

Lead: EPA

Lead: MEP







Resource Implications:

This effort assumes that clean water remains a priority for the decade to come and that budget/personnel levels in participating Chinese and US Governmental agencies are more or less constant over that period. Except as otherwise agreed, each side will finance expenses of its own nationals.

Timeline Summary:

Years 1-5- Development of core water management programs: water permitting system, to be accompanied by water quality standards and monitoring recommendations.

Years 6-7 - Development of supplementary water management programs, such as total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) and water quality trading. The successful implementation of permitting programs, monitoring and water quality standards are prerequisite for the proper implementation of these water management programs.

Years 8-10 Ongoing implementation through advanced technologies in monitoring, evaluation, and pollution control.

U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue

Ten Year Cooperation on Energy and Environment

Clean Water Action Plan

June 2008


1. Background of China-US Cooperation

In 2007, under the framework of the China-US Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED), the China-US Joint Economic Study (JES) on energy conservation and emission reduction in the power sector achieved great success and this fruitful cooperation was highly acclaimed by the top levels of the governments of both countries. The JES helped provide theoretical and intellectual support for the decision making and implementation process of policies concerning energy conservation and emission reduction in the power sector in China. China-US cooperation on SO2 emission trading in the power sector of China, as a follow-up activity to the JES, has been going on smoothly and its achievement is due 2010. All this demonstrates that environmental cooperation plays an increasingly important role in the SED. It is vital and necessary, from both macro and micro points of view, for the two sides to continue their cooperation on environmental policy studies under the SED, and it is believed the two sides can generate more achievements.

The two countries agreed at the Third SED in December 2007 to map out the Ten Year Framework for Cooperation on Energy and Environment (the Ten Year Framework) and to establish a cooperative partnership in the field of environmental protection. In April 2008, Mr. Henry Paulson, the Secretary for Treasury and the special representative of the US president, met with Mr. Zhou Shengxian, Minister of Environmental Protection of China, and a consensus was reached on clean water cooperation under SED and the Ten Year Framework.

The two sides agree upon this Action Plan in accordance with the Ten Year Framework for Cooperation on Energy and the Environment.

2. Water Pollution Prevention and Treatment in China

Beginning from the 9th five-year-plan period (1995-2000), China has identified key river basins and regions for water pollution prevention and treatment. The government has done a lot of work in those areas and achieved initial progress. However, China is still faced with tremendous challenges in water pollution control. On the one hand, the discharge of pollutants far exceed the bearing capacity of the water systems, while on the other, a large amount of lakes and rivers have lost their ecological function due to accumulated pollution, and that gives rise to frequent water pollution accidents, which pose serious threats to drinking water safety and human health. According to the 2006 Report on the State of Environment in China, for 26% of the key rivers and 67% of the 27 key lakes and reservoirs monitored by the state, their water quality fell in category V or worse. (The Chinese standard measures water quality by five categories with category V indicating the poorest water quality.) Therefore water pollution prevention and treatment will naturally remain the first priority for environmental protection in China over the next period of time.

During the 11th five-year-plan period (2005-2010), China prioritizes pollution control when protecting the environment, and water pollution prevention and treatment is the first priority. The most pressing and essential task is the protection of drinking water sources. China has set short-term targets for water protection for this period. By the year of 2010, the water quality of river sections at provincial borders shall be improved to meet relevant requirements of the 11th Five Year Plan. Other targets include a 70% urban sewage treatment ratio and a 10% drop of total COD discharge. China also aims to strengthen its capacities of environmental supervision as well as early warning and emergency response of water pollution accidents. In the long run, China strives to revitalize the clean rivers and green mountains, restore the healthy ecological system of river basins, and ensure safe drinking water for all people of the country.

In order to achieve these targets, the Chinese government has adopted a series of policy measures and instruments, including imposition of “regional EIA approval suspension” on regions and river basins where violation of environmental laws is rampant; the practice of “one measure for one lake” in light of the different features and difficulties in pollution treatment of each lake, the suspension of EIA approval for projects that may add total nitrogen or phosphorus discharge in the surrounding areas of eutrophied lakes; the strengthening of pollution prevention and treatment in key river basins with an emphasis on policy studies for COD discharge reduction; the strengthening of industrial pollution control with a focus on total pollutants discharge control for industries and the introduction of a pollution discharge permitting system; the protection of rural areas by properly treating sewage and garbage there so as to prevent the transfer of pollution from factories and cities to the rural areas; and so on.

To ensure the safety of drinking water sources, the Ministry of Environmental Protection of China has promulgated the Technical Guideline for Designating Source Water Protection Areas and the Technical Requirement for Source Water Protection Area Signs, and helped most cities in China to identify their protection zones and improve management for source water. The newly amended Law on Prevention and Treatment of Water Pollution also aims to step up efforts in this regard. The law stipulates that the focus should be pollution prevention while also taking an integrated approach to treat existing pollution. The protection of source water should be prioritized and pollution from industries, cities, and non-point agricultural sources should be under effective control. More resources should be put into ecological recovery projects which help prevent, curb and reduce water pollution and ecological damage. The law highlights that water environmental protection should be incorporated into the local plans for economic and social development, and a source water protection zone system should be established. Over the recent two years, China developed a strategy for water pollution prevention and treatment that calls for a period of “rest and recuperation” for the rivers, lakes and seas. The strategy has brought about large-scale environmental treatment programs in river basins and regions.

With the strategy of “rest and recuperation”, it is pressing for China to put forward pragmatic and effective policies and management approaches to address the water problem. Technological support is also indispensable. Study projects for clean water and source water protection shall be launched and experiences gained there would be invaluable for developing improved water protection policies.

3. Water Quality Management in the US

The US has rich experiences in water environmental treatment. At the strategic level, the US maps out strategic plans on a regular basis, including the 2006-2011 EPA Strategic Plan. Goal 2 of this Strategic Plan regards clean and safe water. EPA aims to raise drinking water standard, ensure beach water safety, restore polluted water bodies and improve water quality of coastal areas by implementing core programs, constructing water infrastructure and watersheds restoration and protection. At the regulatory level, the US enforced such laws as Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, as well as policies and measures like Total Maximum Daily Loads, water quality management plan and non-point pollution control. In the meantime, the US also introduced such market-based instruments as water quality trading, price and taxation tools, and encouraging private investment.

In practice, the US gained abundant experiences from the Great Lakes Program and Chesapeake Bay Program. The Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay Regions are major hubs for manufacturing and economic growth in the US, and water pollution caused there was very serious.

Since 1987, the US and Canadian governments began to jointly implement the Remedial Action Plans, or Lakewide Management Plans, which added ecological indicators of birds and fish beside the basic indicators of chemical pollution control. The Plans also mapped out the key steps and measures for remediating and restoring the ecosystem of the Great Lakes Region. The US has implemented other measures on its own as well, including Great Lakes Management Plan, Resource Management Plan, Environmental Management Plan and Friendly Great Lakes Action.

In the Chesapeake Bay region, the Chesapeake Executive Council has implemented important plans, including the Chesapeake Bay Plan and Clean Bay Action. The Chesapeake Bay Program Office of the US EPA conducted four programs to help protect the environment and restore the ecosystem of the region. (1) The State Revolving Loans and Grants support the technological upgrading and secondary discharge standard updating of wastewater treatment plants in the region through joint credit from the federal and state governments. (2) Under the Chesapeake Bay Implementation Plan, the federal government compensates local governments for the implementation of their pollution control projects. (3) The Non-point Pollution Control Program supports the implementation of projects controlling pollution from non-point sources and cities. (4) The State Compensation Fund supports the environmental projects in states for implementing the Clean Water Act.

The US is also successful in treating the water environment of the Ohio and Tennessee River Valley.

In a word, the US has valuable experiences in the field of water environmental treatment and protection, particularly drinking water protection, integrated management of river basins and market based instruments for water pollution prevention and control. Such experiences, know-how and technology of the US can help China develop clean water policies and carry out study projects.


Over a period of ten years, the Clean Water Action Plan aims to draw upon the US experiences in water environmental treatment and ecological restoration, and to develop sample cases in selected river basins (middle or small size) or source water areas in China for source water protection, and water pollution prevention and treatment. The approaches to be adopted include reducing pollution from economic and social activities, raising pollution treatment capacities and ecological restoration, as well as mechanisms, policies and technology to be developed during the process. The Action Plan seeks to implement the requirements of the SED, promote mutual understanding, and help China improve its management and treatment of river basins. The Action Plan will also seek to strengthen oversight and implementation of source water protection and water pollution prevention through improvement of institutional linkages among the national, provincial, and local levels. It is anticipated that this plan will be revised and updated, as appropriate.

The objectives in different stages are as follows:

1. To fully understand and learn from the successes and lessons of the US in the field of water environmental treatment and ecological restoration, including the policies, measures and market based instruments adopted for the Great Lakes region, Chesapeake Bay region and Ohio River basin.

Based on the findings of our studies and the available resources at the conclusion of our research, the following activities may be considered.

2. To select typical source water areas or river basins, to set up an integrated model for source water protection, water environmental treatment and ecological restoration, and use this model to evaluate the performance of the mechanisms, policies, measures and market based instruments to be implemented in the selected study regions.

3. To complete the cost benefit analysis, draw upon the US experiences, and develop integrated measures and concrete action plans for environmental treatment and ecological restoration in demonstrative river basins or source water areas. Such laws, regulations, mechanisms, policies and technologies would help realize the strategy of “rest and recuperation”.

4. To implement the integrated measures and action plans developed for the demonstrative region and carry out evaluation programs during and after the implementation process. To review the experiences and lessons and provide a real-life model for water pollution prevention and treatment in river basins and source water areas.

5. Build upon the studies, demonstration and evaluation of the previous stages, to develop policies and technology systems that realize the strategy of “rest and recuperation” for the major river basins in China. These systems will also provide scientific and technological support for water environmental treatment and ecological restoration across the nation.

6. To report the achievements to the China-US SED in accordance with the Ten Year Framework for Energy and Environmental Cooperation (June 2008).

Participating Departments

The Ministry of Environmental Protection leads the implementation of this Action Plan for Ten Year Cooperation on Clean Water, and the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Science and Technology also take part in the process.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency leads the US implementation of this Action Plan for Ten Year Cooperation on Clean Water and the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of State also take part in the process.

�...� Implementation of the Action Plan

1. Main Activities

(1) Design of Overall Framework of China-US Cooperation on Clean Water

To systematically study and analyze the history, development and legal system of the management policies and mechanisms applied in the US and China for water pollution control and drinking water protection in order to gain mutual understanding of legal frameworks and institutions in each country. To review the experiences and lessons of the US in water pollution control and source water protection, particularly in functional designation of the waters and ecological restoration. To put forward a framework of policies and actions for China-US cooperation on clean water, with a focus on the institutions, mechanism, regulations, policies and technologies for implementing the strategy of “rest and recuperation”, which form a strategic plan and implementation guide of the strategy.

(2) Evaluation and Analysis of Clean Water Policies

To systematically study and analyze the market based instruments the US adopted for water protection, such as water quality trading, and related instruments such as NPDES (discharge permits), TMDL, watershed based permits etc. To study and assess the possible performance, social cost and benefit and feasibility of these instruments in the river basins and water sources of China. EPA’s primary contribution will be to share experiences and lessons learned under U.S. environmental laws in support of MEP’s efforts to study and analyze these instruments.

(3) Assessment and Transfer of Clean Water Technologies

To draw upon US technologies and managerial expertise in water treatment and protection to address important environmental challenges in China that are identified by MEP. EPA will be able to identify guidance and tools to provide assistance in critical areas, including source water protection, non-point pollution prevention and treatment, ecological restoration, nitrogen and phosphorus control, best management practices, surface run-off management, permit management, supporting measures for water quality trading as well as water treatment, monitoring, supervision and inspection technologies. China and the US will work together to assess the feasibility and performance of these technologies and measures in river basins and water sources of China, and to promote the introduction and transfer of such technologies.

(4) Study Programs

In light of the US experiences, to select varied but representative water sources and river basins to carry out study programs, where policies including water quality trading, NPDES, TMDL, discharge permit and source water protection as well as technologies of water pollution treatment, source water protection and ecological restoration can be introduced. Different river basins, with varied features and realities, shall adopt different policies and technologies. Possible options for the study programs include Ningxia, Tianjin, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Sichuan and Shaanxi. EPA primary responsibility will be reviewing the scoping of any case study.

(5) Performance Evaluation of the Study Programs

To draw upon the experiences of the US in building its system for water pollution control and drinking water protection and develop a performance evaluation system. This system, with its indicators, helps evaluate the performance of the study programs, whose experiences can be drawn upon by and disseminated to other regions of China. EPA responsibility will be reviewing the scoping of any case study.

2. Forms of cooperation

The China-US demonstration program of clean water policies and actions may be carried out in the following activities:

(1) research and studies, including document and data collection;

(2) Exchanges and study visits of Chinese officials and experts in the US;

(3) Seminars for exchanging policies and technologies;

(4) Training courses for Chinese officials and experts from both central and local governments on policies and technologies;

(5) Field visits to the river basins and on-site research and discussions.

3. Anticipated achievements

Drawing upon the experiences gained in this study program and bearing in mind the realities of China, the anticipated achievements are to develop:

(1) Supporting policies and technologies for implementing the strategy of “rest and recuperation”;

(2) Policy proposals and legislative suggestions for drinking water safety;

(3) Technical standards and technical guide for river basin and source water protection in China;

(4) A model project for river basin and source water protection in China.

In the short term, there are a number of immediate activities that can be pursued that will help in gaining these achievements, including:

(1) Share information on operation of key provisions of Clean Water Act of interest to MEP, including provisions on oversight of State permitting and implementation.

(2) Provide technical collaboration on revisions to existing laws to address drinking water.

(3) Share information on water quality criteria and drinking water standards/advisory levels.


The China-US Program on clean water will be carried out in 10 years from June 2008 to June 2018. It will be implemented by three phases: short-term phase (5 years), mid-term phase (2 years) and long-term phase (3 years). With respect to study and/or demonstration projects, the US and China will consult on project development.

1. Short-term Phase (June 2008-June 2013)

To design and set up the cooperation framework between China and the US on clean water policies and actions, evaluate and analyze the clean water policies. As a result of this first phase action small-scale study projects will be considered based on greatest areas of need.

2. Mid-term Phase (June 2013-June 2015)

Based upon the achievements and experiences of the Short-term Phase, to carry out assessment and transfer of clean water management approaches and technologies.

3. Long-term Phase (June 2015- June 2018)

Based upon the achievements and experiences of the first two phases, to carry out study programs in major river basins and water sources, evaluate the performance of the China-US Program on clean water, and provide support and reference to the protection of the environment across the nation and the implementation of the strategy of “rest and recuperation” for the waters of China.