China's water resources authority said on Monday it would adopt an inspection system to improve the appointment within local governments of "river chiefs" in a bid to better protect the country's water resources.
The system would appoint the heads of provincial, city, county and township levels as river chiefs and make them responsible for managing and protecting all rivers and lakes in the given region, according to a guideline issued by the general offices of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council on Sunday.
The Ministry of Water Resources will then inspect the implementation of the "river chief mechanism" and strictly evaluate the chiefs, Zhou Xuewen, vice minister of Water Resources Ministry, told a press briefing on Monday.
The river chiefs will manage large rivers and lakes that span across multiple regions. Other responsibilities include water resource protection; pollution prevention and control; and ecological restoration, according to the guideline.
Considering that it was hard to enforce the law across different regions, residents of Zhoukou, Central China's Henan Province were forced to build a dam to cut off the Fenquan River after its upper reaches running across another city, Luohe, was polluted, news site cnr.cn reported in July 2015.
They will be held accountable if environmental damage occurs in water bodies they've been assigned to, according to the guideline.
"Lakes and rivers are important ecological and economic resources. But management problems emerged in recent years, including a high rate of water pollution, lake reclamation and illegal sand dredging," Zhou said.
Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, told the Global Times that the river chief mechanism would better remind heads of local governments of their duties, urging them to coordinate the different departments for water protection.
Ma noted that some local government heads used to place economic development above environmental protection.
"The effectiveness of the river chief mechanism depends on the accountability system and on whether the river chiefs would respond to public concerns in a timely manner," said Ma.
The guideline also stressed public involvement, saying river chiefs' names and responsibilities will be published for the public to follow.
China first appointed local government officials as river chiefs in 2007 to address a blue algae outbreak in Taihu Lake, Jiangsu Province, Xinhua said.
The ministries of environmental protection and water resources will meet to work together on some major issues, said Zhou.
The river chief mechanism is expected to be implemented across the country by the end of 2018. It has been piloted in eight provinces and municipalities, including Beijing, Tianjin and East China's Zhejiang Province.