The city of Guangzhou, in Guangdong Province, China, faces major problems in the development, implementation and application of a comprehensive water pollution control strategy. Since the 1980s, discharges of industrial wastewater and domestic sewage have increased dramatically, resulting in a continuing deterioration in the quality of urban water bodies. The Pearl River, which passes through the city, is now seriously polluted and water quality in many sections fails to attain even the lowest national surface water quality standards. The 19 urban creeks in the city are also badly polluted, and Guangzhou is facing a water shortage due to pollution of its supply sources.

This paper overviews the water pollution problem of Guangzhou. Existing approaches to wastewater treatment are evaluated using an Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) and a form of cost-effectiveness analysis. Problems associated with different approaches are explored. Options to improve the effectiveness of wastewater treatment are proposed. The paper seeks to demonstrate that in Guangzhou, the most effective approach to wastewater treatment involves the use of small and medium-scale treatment facilities. This is in contrast to the situation in many other parts of the world where greater emphasis has been placed on the development of large-scale facilities for wastewater collection, transport and treatment.