Pollution inspectors have rebuked local governments and the provincial government in China’s southern industrial hub, Guangdong province, for allowing hundreds of thousands of tons of raw sewage to be dumped into waterways every day.

Inspectors found that 470,000 tons of untreated sewage was discharged into rivers in the provincial capital of Guangzhou, China’s third-largest city, with a population of over 14 million.

As a result, over half of the waterways feeding the Liuxi River were so polluted that its water could not be used for drinking or for agriculture, according to a report submitted to provincial officials on Thursday by the central government inspection team. Liuxi is a major tributary of China’s third-longest river, the Pearl River, which flows through the city of Guangzhou.

The problem stems from the fact that the city’s sewage system was still in shambles. Guangzhou has completed less than a third of the citywide sewage collection pipelines it planned last year, which would measure 1,884 km if lined up end-to-end, according to inspectors.

Throughout the province, water quality has deteriorated over the past five years even though local governments have spent billions of yuan to fight water pollution, the report said. Guangzhou alone spent more than 30 billion yuan ($4.4 billion) to improve water quality from 2012 through 2016, it added.

China’s southern tech hub, Shenzhen, was also dumping nearly 450,000 tons of untreated sewage in waterways each day in violation of the 2008 Water Protection Law, the report said. The rich city, with one of the highest per capita incomes in the country, has facilities to treat only half the sewage it generates each day and still needs to build 4,600 km of sewage collection pipelines.

Officials in Dongguan also were upbraided for releasing nearly 450,000 tons of raw sewage into its rivers. The amount of ammoniac nitrogen and phosphorus — two common pollutants from sewage — in the city’s Shima River have more than doubled from 2012 to 2016, inspectors found. The city has completed only one-fifth of the 1,080-km sewage-collection system it planned to build from 2010 to 2015, inspectors found.

Authorities in Shantou and Jieyang, two other cities in Guangdong, did little to stop nearly 620,000 tons of untreated wastewater from being discharged into local waterways, inspectors said.

The ruling Communist Party started sending environmental inspection teams to provinces in January last year, as the country grapples with severe air pollution in the north and problems linked to toxic water in the south.

These high-level teams include officials from the top anti-graft agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and the party’s personnel department as well as the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

These teams have more influence compared to those sent by the Environmental Protection Ministry in the past, according to Qin Tianbao, director of Wuhan University’s Research Institute for Environmental Law.

So far, teams that toured cities in November and December have released reports on at least six provincial-level governments, including the municipalities of Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing.

Police detained 118 officials in Guangdong after the inspection, the inspection team that toured the province said.

Nearly 470 officials and state-owned company executives were demoted or given a negative evaluation that could adversely affect their future promotions, it said.

Inspectors said they received nearly 4,400 tips from the public, which helped them uncover instances in which environmental laws were flouted. However, they didn’t say whether local authorities in Guangdong have been ordered to fix the problems uncovered or how long it would take to take corrective measures.

Guangdong has been supplying fresh water to Hong Kong since 1964. Inspectors didn’t flag any pollution-related issues linked to the water diverting project to the city.

By Li Rongde and Zhou Dongxu

Caixin

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