By Hou Liqiang
A total investment of more than 1 trillion yuan ($147.5 billion) is needed to treat black and odorous water bodies in China, and companies from all over the world are welcome to contribute, a senior environmental official said.
Zhang Bo, director general of water quality management at the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, made the comment during a news conference on Thursday as his ministry concluded a nationwide inspection campaign on the treatment of such waters.
Generally, the length of water supply pipelines should equal that of sewage lines. In China, however, the length of sewage pipes is about 400,000 kilometers shorter than those for water supplies, Zhang said.
Filling the gap will require almost 1 trillion yuan, on top of the investment needed for the construction of more plants to treat sewage and water bodies.
"The total amount of investment will be very large. It will exceed 1 trillion yuan," he said.
The investment is necessary, and there is no doubt that the government needs to increase investment to fulfill the task, Zhang said, but it's beyond the local governments' capacity. The central government needs to come up with policies to make the market play its role, he added.
One of the measures the government should take is to increase the price for sewage disposal and make it higher than the cost, he said.
He added that this can be significant in fulfilling the task of treating black and odorous water, as it will not only make people happy with their better environment but also will encourage development, like real estate, near water bodies.
"I wish all excellent environmental companies across the globe would pay attention to the market and come to compete and contribute their efforts," he said.
The central authorities issued an action plan on black and odorous water treatment in 2015, vowing to ensure the number of such water bodies in all prefecture-level cities should cover no more than 10 percent of their total by 2020.
The environmental ministry and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development launched a campaign to inspect the treatment process in May. By early July, 32 inspection teams had visited 70 cities in 30 provincial regions that claimed to have accomplished the treatment of 993 of their total 1,127 black and odorous water bodies.
Zhang said 919 of the water bodies passed inspectors' assessments, but inspectors also found another 274 new problems.
He said rains helped inspectors find some of the dirty and smelly water bodies as floodwaters pushed out a lot of hidden sewage and rubbish. There might be more such water bodies that have not been found because of favorable weather, he said.
"There was no rainfall in some of the cities before inspectors' visits, which helped hide some of the problems. The real situation may be grimmer," he said.