New rules to protect water, soil

08:18, December 27, 2010      

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Companies and individuals working on uncultivated land must control the loss of water and soil -- or pay the cost of government conservation on the project, the country's top legislature has proposed.

Penalties for the loss of soil and water must also be included in land-use contracts with local governments, according to a revision of the Law on Water and Soil Conservation.

The revised law, approved on Saturday, goes into effect on March 1.

Zhou Ying, vice-minister of water resources, warned that China's loss of soil and water, reportedly among the worst in the world, has "posed severe threats to the ecology, food safety and flood control".

The revised law requires water authorities to confiscate income if individuals or companies borrow soil, dig sand or collect stones in areas known for landslides.

The law also requires compensation if projects are carried out in areas more likely to see water loss and soil erosion, including mountain areas and sandy regions.

Individuals breaking the law face fines of 1,000 to 10,000 yuan ($150 to $1,500), while companies face fines of 20,000 to 200,000 yuan.

The old law lagged behind the quickening economic and social development and environmental requirements, said Zhou in a report issued during the top legislature's first reading on the draft amendment in late August.

It is the first time the National People's Congress Standing Committee revised the law since it was adopted in 1991.

Zhou cited problems in soil and water preservation, including inadequate coordination and monitoring, a 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, specifies that water administration departments at or above county level should draw up plans for land and water conservation and see to their implementation.

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

Sun Honglie, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, warned that more than 37 percent of Chinese land suffers from soil erosion, with the phenomenon particularly severe in the vast western regions.

China loses 666 square kilometers of farmland annually due to soil and water losses. At this rate, 9,300 sq km of farmland in Northeast China, about the size of Yellowstone National Park in the United States, will have lost all of its black earth topsoil within 50 years, according to Sun, who was invited by the top legislature to lecture on natural resources.

Besides China's water authorities, other government agencies including departments of forestry, agriculture, land and resources, are responsible to work with the water departments on the country's water and soil conservation work, the revised law says.

After massive rock and mud slides in Yunnan and Gansu provinces this summer, Chen Lei, minister of water resources, said that water and soil losses remain the top environmental problem for China.

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