DOI: 10.3390/w16050790 ISSN: 2073-4441

Evaluating the Effectiveness of the “River Chief System”: An Empirical Study Based on the Water Quality Data of Coastal Rivers in Guangdong Province

Kun Yang, Jinrui Yao, Yin Huang, Huiyan Ling, Yu Yang, Lin Zhang, Diyun Chen, Yuxian Liu
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Biochemistry

The river chief system (RCS) is an innovative reform in China for strengthening the management of rivers and lakes. It is an important means of curbing the current severe water-environment situation. However, the policy impact of the RCS is still inconclusive in the existing literature. Using monthly data spanning from January 2015 to March 2022 from 25 water quality monitoring stations in rivers flowing into the sea across 13 prefecture-level cities in Guangdong Province, this study adopted regression discontinuity to evaluate the policy effects of the RCS on water quality. The results show that after the RCS’s full implementation in Guangdong Province, the concentrations of dissolved oxygen (DO) increased and water quality indicators, such as permanganate index (CODMn), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), ammonia nitrogen (NH3-N), chemical oxygen demand (COD), and total phosphorus (TP), decreased; NH3-N showed the largest decrease. These findings indicate that the RCS may contribute to a measurable improvement in reducing water pollution. However, no statistically significant changes in pH and total nitrogen (TN) were found, which indicates that the RCS fell short of achieving the policy effect of comprehensive water-pollution control. Therefore, in order to improve the RCS, it is necessary to refine the existing water-quality assessment indicators and to establish an evaluation system centered on the ecological health of rivers and lakes. Additionally, a paradigm shift from an administrative-boundary-based river management model to an overarching, holistic river-basin-based management approach is crucial for actualizing the holistic governance goals of the RCS.

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