Water rights pilots kicked off in 2014 across seven provinces are now complete, says the Ministry of Water Resources (MWR), providing a number of models for water resource management and a variety of water rights trading models that may be copied in the future.

The most challenging aspect of pilot efforts, says China News, lies in clarifying and confirming water rights at the province level, devolving those rights to smaller administrative areas and finally, to individual water users. Individual water users holding water access permits are subject to ‘Water access permit and water use fee collection management regulations’. Agricultural water users in irrigated areas are subject to a different system, whereby local governments or other authorised water management authorities issue water rights certificates to rural collective economic organisations, farmers’ water use cooperative groups, and individual farming households. Generally, allocating water use rights involves the following four steps

  • defining a total water use indicator for the region
  • clarifying water use allocation for each industry
  • specifying total water use for each user
  • issuing water rights certificates

A national water rights exchange was launched in 2016. To date, over 876 million cubic metres of water use rights have been traded on the platform. Some local pilots adopted alternative market-based approaches to water rights trading, including inter-regional, inter-watershed and inter-industry water rights trading and government buyback schemes.

The completed pilots are only the first phase, says Zhou Xuewen 周学文 MWR minister, and the next set of reform tasks will be ‘even more arduous’, requiring

  • reviewing and accepting results from pilot provinces
  • compiling cases and promoting replicable experiences
  • consolidating and expanding pilot reforms
  • upgrading the national water rights policy system
  • building water rights markets
  • promoting the transfer of water rights based on a standard system
  • accelerating research on major barriers to water rights reform
  • further pilots exploring water use rights in wetlands, along coastlines and other areas designated as ecologically sensitive