NANCHANG, March 22 (Xinhua) -- Zhong Youguo was recently given a new job: to clean up a 7.5-km section of a river in his hometown.
Zhong, the deputy head of Shuangxi Township in east China's Jiangxi Province, was recently appointed Hezhang, or river chief, to help guarantee the water quality of a section of the Beiliao River, a small tributary of the Yangtze, China's longest river.
The river is frequently covered in garbage and local fishermen are often caught fishing illegally.
"If I find anyone dumping waste into the river or fishing illegally, I stop them immediately or report it to the county office," Zhong said.
China is appointing local government heads as "river chiefs" to clean up its water resources as the nation's polluted rivers become an increasingly important talking point.
River chiefs have been hired in at least a dozen provinces and cities including Guizhou, Sichuan, Anhui, Zhejiang and Guangdong, mostly southern provinces rich in water resources.
Jiangxi has become the latest province to join the river chief movement, with the mechanism implemented across the province. There are currently 799 river chiefs on the provincial, city and county levels in the province, according to official statistics.
China first adopted the practice of appointing local heads of government as river chiefs in 2007.
It was first initiated in Wuxi city, Jiangsu province, to address pollution woes after a blue algae outbreak in Taihu Lake. Prior to the change, river management fell into the hands of several authorities. But a lack of strong leadership, weak coordination and lax supervision contributed to multiple pollution outbreaks.
Gan Lilin, a 52-year-old village head, patrols the Beiliao River on a bamboo raft every day, picking up trash.
"Sometimes I can pick two bags of waste," he said.
He regularly uploads pictures of the river onto a chat group containing more than 100 river chiefs at county, township and village levels to report his duty.
For the river chiefs, responsibilities include preventing potentially harmful industries being built along the rivers, securing river clean-up funding and enforcement of policies.
"If any river chief finds signs of pollution, he is obligated to coordinate with 21 departments to solve the problem," said Hu Yong, deputy head of Jing'an County, which oversees Shuangxi Township.
Officials who achieve annual goals get rewards. Those whose rivers show signs of pollution are punished with fines and loss of promotion opportunities. Investigation will be carried out to uncover cases of dereliction of duty or misconduct if public complaints are received.
Under such pressure, water quality in places with the river chief program have greatly improved.
In Pingba district in Guizhou's Anshun city, district official Tang Youbo has been appointed the river chief for a section of the Sancha River.
Tang Youbo has made Sancha river protection a job priority. He patrols the river at least once a month and pays special attention to reports of pollution in the river.
Sancha river, about 325 kilometers long, flows to the Wujiang River, which then reaches Yangtze, China's longest.
Six years ago, water quality in Sancha river was rated at the third-level under a five-grade system, meaning it was not suitable for drinking. Now, the quality has been improved to the second grade.
Jiang Ping, deputy chief of the Guizhou provincial environment protection department, said the title of river chief offers a constant to the responsibility of those in power.
"It has greatly raised conservation awareness for local officials, most of whom used to be growth-centered," he said.
Guizhou now has 98 river chiefs at provincial, city and county levels, Jiang said. At more grass roots levels, farmers who are hired for regular river clean-up efforts are also called river chiefs.
In the past five years, monitoring data showed 87 percent of the Guizhou river met national water quality standards, up 15 percentage points from 2010. In the next two years, Guizhou's environment protection funding will reach 23.4 billion yuan.
Administrative methods have proven quite effective, but it is far from enough, said Li Zuojun, deputy director of the resources and environment policy institute of the Development Research Center of the State Council.
Legal support, market means, public awareness and company ethics also need to be stepped up, he said.