China vows to improve Songhua River water quality in five years

BEIJING, Jan 24, 2006 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- China will strive to make 90 percent of the water in northeast China's Songhua River drinkable within five years, a senior Chinese environmental official said here Tuesday.

"We aim to upgrade the water quality in the Songhua to Class Three by 2010," said Fan Yuansheng, director of the pollution control department of the State Environmental Protection Administration, at a press conference here.

The water quality in 15 major tributaries of the Songhua will also reach Class Three or Four by that time, he said.

China classifies water into five quality categories with Class One being the best. A survey conducted by SEPA in 2004 indicated that one third of the water in the Songhua is Class Five or worse.

The Songhua River pollution became even more dire when about 100 benzene-related pollutants flowed into the river after a chemical plant explosion in Jilin city on the upper reaches of the river on Nov. 13 last year.

SEPA director Zhou Shengxian announced at the press conference that benzene-related pollutants in the river and its surrounding underground water were now below national standards. However, he acknowledged that it would take a long time and cost an enormous amount of money to repair the damaged ecological system along the river.

According to SEPA, China will take a series of measures to improve water quality in the Songhua, including construction of more sewage and garbage treatment plants in cities and enforcing clean production in industries along the river.

The country will set up monitoring stations along the Songhua and the Heilongjiang River which borders Russia to oversee water quality changes.

China will also establish an environmental pre-warning network along the river while enhancing environmental impact assessment and environmental restoration capacities, in case of further environmental accidents.