The extent and severity of water pollution in China is well known, as is the fact that until the 11th Five Year Plan (FYP) in 2006, much greater importance was placed on economic growth than environmental protection. There were few incentives to reduce pollution owing to an inadequate legal framework, the absence of economic measures for pollution control in favour of a command-and-control approach, and weak enforcement. Passing through four provinces and Tianjin Municipality, Zhangweinan River (Canal) Basin, part of the water-scarce Haihe River system in north-eastern China, provides an example of the types of trans-jurisdictional water pollution disputes that are common throughout China owing to inadequate application of integrated water resources management (IWRM) principles. The Zhangweinan River has a decreasing flow downstream and virtually zero assimilation capacity owing to waste loads that are vastly larger than the assimilation capacity of the river system. The fact that these trans-jurisdictional issues keep arising and, for the most part, are never resolved, reflects the failure of IWRM governance in this basin. We explore legal, institutional, planning, technical and market measures that would greatly reduce trans-jurisdictional disputes and contribute to successful IWRM in China.

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