Chinese provinces gamble over crucial water source

February 23, 2012

Two Chinese provinces have found a novel way to settle a long simmering dispute over compensation for environmental damage to the Xin’an River using one of China’s most traditional pastimes - placing a bet.

As reported in the Chinese press this week, Anhui and Zhejiang provinces in east China have agreed that compensation for damage caused to the river will be paid as per the conditions of a wager.

According to the agreement, if the water quality around the border of the two provinces improves in three years, wealthy Zhejiang will give 100 million yuan (USD15 million) to its poorer neighbor Anhui; if the water quality deteriorates, Anhui will give 100 million yuan to Zhejiang. If there is no change in water quality, no money will pass hands.

The central government earlier this month allotted 300 million yuan to Anhui for treatment of the river.

The 359-km-long Xin’an River runs from Anhui’s Huangshan City into coastal Zhejiang’s Qiandao Lake, which is a famous tourist spot and a crucial source of drinking water for that province as well as Shanghai.

However, the two provinces have been squabbling for over a decade over Anhui’s efforts to boost its economy through industrial development which has put Qiandao Lake at serious risk of eutrophication due to domestic and agricultural sewage from Huangshan.

Thus far the Huangshan government has started to dismantle fish cages along the river and says it may turn to tourism to provide news forms of livelihood.

Though the  two provinces are still debating about where and how to measure water quality as any specific choice may tip the balance of their bet, the case is being hailed by the media as a model for resolving cross-provincial water disputes in a country where tensions over water are increasing and compensation is seen as a potential solution.