The emerging water crisis in China shows that the current institutional frameworks and policies with regard to water resources management are incapable of achieving an effective and satisfactory situation that includes Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM). This paper analyses this framework and related policies, examines their deficiencies in relation to all water stress problems and explores alternatives focusing on river basins. Water resources management reforms in modern China are reviewed and the main problems involved in transforming the current river management system into an IRBM-based system are analysed. The Huai River basin is used as an example of current river basin management, with quantitative data serving to show the scale and scope of the problems in the country as a whole. The institutional reforms required are discussed and a conceptual institutional framework is proposed to facilitate the implementation of IRBM in China. In particular, the roles, power and responsibilities of River Basin Commissions (RBCs) should be legally strengthened; the functions of supervising, decision-making and execution should be separated; and cross-sectoral legislation, institutional coordination and public participation at all levels should be promoted.

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