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Improve Water Governance of River Basins in China

Author(s): The Potential of Legislation and Institutional Reform
Congress: 2008
Author(s): Jiebin Zhang
Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, South Beijing Road 40-3, Urumqi,Xinjiang 830011,China Tel: 0086-991- 7885379 Fax: 0086-991-7885320 Email :

Keyword(s): Water Governance, China, Legislation, institutional Reform
AbstractWater governance and its major elements reveal that an adequate legal and institutional framework to be in place is essential for the good water governance. As a typically centralized country, China had put the water governance on the competent water administration departments (CWADs) at various levels through decisions and resolutions since the establishment of new China in 1949. How to make these departments accountable, participatory and transparent has been the great effort of China to achieve good water governance in the whole country. However, without appropriate legal and institutional framework for water administration in river basins, these departments vacillated between their powers and functions, thus lack of good governance. In enacting Water Law of China in 1978, identifying CWADs above county level and delimitation of theirs powers and functions became a major theme of legislation. China adopted first national Water Law in 1988. The law has a striking characteristic in that it lodges the CWADs and provides for a basic administrative system that “a system combines unified administration with administration at various levels and by various departments”. In implementing this law, one of major shortfalls is that it hindered the effective water governance at the river basin level, because it has not any explicit provisions on the water administration at the river basin level, functions of seven existing river basin agencies (RBAs). The revision of this law became an urgent mater because the serious water pollution of most river basins and serious water shortage in northern China since early 1990s. The 2002 Revised Water Law was adopted to deal with these long- standing issues by providing for “a system of management of river basins combined with management of administrative regions”, and empowering the RBAs functions. This conforms that the Chinese Government has recognized the fragmental water management is a great impediment to promoting their accountability. However, the 2002 Revised Water Law does not explicate the participatory and transparency mechanisms of those RBAs named as water resources commissions but actually delegated the Ministry of Water Resources (MWR) other then real commissions participated by all stakeholders. How to avoid the long-standing action on its own will of each RBA is still a challenge for good water governance at the river basin level. Given the great significance of those major river basins defined by the State to the national water management, the author first reviews the major difficulties and issues in exerting good water governance of those RBAs. And then, the possibility of establishing a complete commission participating by the leaders of all relevant ministries and provinces within each key river basin is analyzed based on international experiences and national conditions. Particularly, an integrated approach is suggested to this possible mechanism in order to improve the accountability and enforce the equitable participation and transparency in ongoing nation-wide institutional reform of water sector. Finally, the author gives some suggestions to the revision of the national water law in order to ensure good water governance in China.
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