China Revises Law on Water and Soil Conservation

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Jan. 6 – In an effort to reverse the water and soil losses that China sees as its top environmental problem, the Standing Committee of the NPC revised the 1991 Law on Water and Soil Conservation on December 25, with the revised law set to go into effect on March 1, 2011.

Roughly 37 percent of Chinese land suffers from erosion and at current rates the country loses an average of 666 square kilometers of farmland yearly in the northeast region alone.

According to statistics from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the country spent about US$450 million to prevent soil erosion in 2009 and research from the Asian Development Bank has shown economic losses caused by water and soil loss in China to equal about 3.5 percent of the nation’s GDP.

The newly amended law shows a strong government commitment to addressing a host of factors aggravating China’s soil and water preservation problems, including inadequate coordination and monitoring, lack of measures to prevent and control water and soil loss, and increased production and construction activities.

The law, with a new chapter on planning, aims to strengthen control mechanisms by specifying that water administration departments at or above county level should draw up plans for land and water conservation and oversee their implementation. China’s water authorities as well as other government agencies including the forestry, agriculture, land and resources departments will be responsible to work together on the country’s water and soil conservation project.

Penalties for the loss of soil and water must be included in land-use contracts reached with local governments, according to the law, which provides for more severe punishments to violators. If individuals or companies fail to work on controlling water and soil losses within a prescribed time frame, they should pay the full expense of the government’s water and soil conservation work on the project.

The revised law requires water authorities to confiscate the illegal income of individuals or companies that borrow soil, dig sand or collect stones in dangerous areas known for land collapsing or landslides. A fine in the range of RMB1,000 to RMB10,000 will be imposed on individual violators. The fine for companies will be in the range of RMB20,000 to RMB200,000.

The law also requires local authorities to seek public and expert opinions before drawing up soil and water conservation plans.