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Officials from the provincial level down to townships who oversee lakes in their area will still be held responsible for their watery wards long after their tenure if environmental problems originated during their watch.
This lifelong liability accountability system will be instituted across China as the nation rolls out a "lake chief" system, with government heads overseeing protection of lakes in their jurisdictions.
Zhou Xuewen, vice-minister of water resources, described the system in a news conference organized by the State Council Information Office on Friday, one day after the central government published a guideline and asked the system to be established across the country by the end of this year.
In the system, heads of provincial, city, county and township governments will work as lake chiefs to coordinate protection and management of lakes and their tributaries.
Heads of provincial governments will work as chiefs of major lakes in their region and the ones that cross provincial regions. City government leaders will serve as chiefs of lakes that cross different counties.
The top chiefs in a provincial region will be responsible for drafting protection tasks, tailoring protection measures for different lakes and clarifying the responsibilities for chiefs at all levels, according to the guideline.
"Government heads may be transferred to other areas and not work as the lake chiefs any more," Zhou said. "During their time of working as lake chiefs, there might be some problems in lake protection. The damage from these problems, however, may not show up immediately but several years later.
"No matter where they have been transferred to, they will be held accountable if the root of environmental damage dated back to the time when they were in the post," Zhou said.
Zhou also said the lake chief system is a necessary complement to the river chief system established in 23 provincial regions, considering the distinct characteristics of lakes.
In late 2016, the central government pledged national implementation in two years of the river chief system, in which government heads are assigned to take charge of protecting waterways in their area. In 2017, about 310,000 river chiefs at the township level and above have been appointed across the country in addition to 620,000 at the village level.
But with rivers flowing in and out of lakes, the protection picture becomes more complex. With large areas of lakes far from shore, jurisdiction becomes more complicated, Zhou said.
Pollution control and treatment in lakes can be more difficult because the water generally doesn"t flow as quickly as rivers do, which can cause pollution and excessive nutrients to become concentrated more easily, he added.
There are 2,865 lakes with a surface area of over 1 square kilometer in China, and 43 of them cross different provincial regions, according to the Ministry of Water Resources. Their total surface area is 78,000 square kilometers.
China will enhance law enforcement and supervision of lakes and maintain a tough stance against illegal activities related to lakes, Chen Lei, minister of water resources, wrote in an article published on People"s Daily on Friday.
He said the ministry will use advanced technologies, including remote sensing satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles, to monitor lake protection and root out illegal sewage draining to lakes, as well as lake reclamation and encroachment on water areas.