Wastewater Treatment and Landfill Ease Pollution of China's Yangtze River

December 13, 2007

Chongqing is trying to provide clean drinking water and waste treatment for millions of residents.

World Bank Group


Chongqing is a booming megalopolis at the confluence of two major rivers in southwest China. Together with rural areas and smaller towns, Chongqing municipality includes about 32 million people. When the project was prepared in the late 1990s, water supply was adequate but the urban center’s wastewater system lagged far behind. Raw domestic and industrial sewage was discharged through over 600 outlets directly into the Yangtze and Jialing rivers, threatening the quality of water supply. Solid waste was disposed in unsanitary open sites or dumped illegally and randomly.

Just when pollution loads were expected to rise because of rapid population and industrial growth, the opening of the Three Gorges dam some 600 km downstream was set to diminish the flushing and assimilative capacity of the Yangtze river.


  • Initially, the municipality planned to build 21 wastewater treatment plants scattered along the rivers - a scheme that would have been very costly, occupied precious real estate in a booming city and degraded the quality of life for nearby residents by emitting malodorous gas.
  • The World Bank project proposed to modify the master plan by intercepting wastewater discharges all along the city's river banks and channeling sewage to two large-scale waste water treatment plants 15 km downstream from the city center.
  • The project's definition of urban environment was expanded to include the restoration of a unique historical site, the Huguan Huiguan merchants' guild complex, thereby enhancing the city's livability at a time of rapid change.


  • Modern sewerage and garbage disposal for a rapidly growing city.
  • Water quality has been improving steadily since 2003. In 2006, data collected by the city’s Environmental Protection Bureau indicated that 90% of the river water in Chongqing city met class II drinking water source standards and 100 % of the water met class III standards (on a scale of I to V, where III is still safe for drinking after treatment).
  • Organic waste matter measured in terms of COD and BOD at various monitoring sites along the Jialing and Yangtze rivers has declined slightly or at least stabilized despite huge increases in pollution loads and the slowing-down of the Yangtze river.
  • A modern, sanitary landfill meeting international standards has replaced district dump sites and haphazard and hazardous garbage dumps, helping improve the urban environment in many neighborhoods and the cleanliness of the city’s rivers. The new landfill absorbs between 1,500 and 2,000 tons of waste per day.
  • Four wastewater interceptors and two large-scale waste water treatment plants now capture and treat most of the wastewater generated by residents and industries in Chongqing city. Daily, the new plants treat 900,000 m3 of wastewater – sewage which would otherwise have been discharged directly into the river. The Bank-financed plants are expected to treat 90% of the city’s sewage when they reach full capacity by the project's end in 2008.
  • The appearance of the rivers has improved, with less floating debris.
  • The beautifully restored merchant’s guild complex has become a cultural and touristic asset, acting as a focal point for urban renewal and development in a poor area of Chongqing city.

World Bank Contribution

  • Modified master plan generated important savings and quality of life enhancements for Chongqing.
  • $200 million loan from IBRD, the World Bank’s lending arm for credit-worthy countries. Financing was significant at the time the project was approved in 2000 since China lacked resources for large-scale infrastructure investments. Lower-then-expected construction costs and financing from the central government saved $70 million.
  • In 2002, these loan savings were redirected to address disparities between rural and urban areas in the sprawling municipality- an issue that is now at the forefront of the Chinese government’s priorities. Improving living conditions (water, roads, flood control) in eight small counties served as a pilot for the follow-up Chongqing Small Cities Infrastructure Improvement project, which is benefiting from a $180 million IBRD loan approved in 2007.
  • Helped transform public water and wastewater utilities into corporations and reform tariff strategy. Tariff increases are putting utilities on a sustainable path and generating resources for operations, maintenance and investments.
  • Training and upgrading of management standards including technical training for the operation of modern landfill facility and wastewater treatment plants.
  • Created awareness of Chongqing’s unique heritage and helped raise the profile of Chongqing as a city of culture.
  • A grant from the Japanese government (Policy and Human Resources Development grant) helped with project implementation, providing for example technical advice on the construction of a challenging interceptor pipeline tunneled under the Yangtze river.
  • The Italian government provided a grant for technical assistance and design of the renovated merchant’s guild complex.

Next Steps
Chongqing has become China’s largest inland city and continues to grow at a dizzying rate as the country urbanizes to escape poverty. Additional wastewater plants and landfills will be required to meet the city’s increasing garbage and sewage outputs.

In 2007, China’s central government selected Chongqing municipality to pilot approaches towards reducing rural and urban disparities in Western China. The World Bank is helping to expand the reach of public utilities and services to poorer secondary cities and towns through its follow-up Small Cities Infrastructure Improvement project.