BEIJING (Reuters) - China is on track to exceed its 2014 target for cutting water pollution, the government announced on Wednesday, amid reports that it plans a $326 billion action plan to clean up its rivers and lakes.
A lack of environmental oversight during decades of economic growth has caused a dire water crisis in China, as toxic waste from factories has left 70 percent of rivers and lakes and over half its groundwater polluted.
But in the first six months of this year, emissions of ammonia nitrogen and chemical oxygen demand (COD, a measure of organic pollutants in water) fell 2.7 and 2.3 percent, respectively, the Ministry of Environmental protection announced on its website Wednesday.
The overall target for 2014 is a 2 percent cut.
While the rate of emission cuts is modest, experts expect steeper reductions as recently adopted standards take effect.
"With more stringent waste-water discharge standards in some sectors, we should expect to see further reduction ... in the future," said Debra Tan, director of Hong Kong-based think-tank China Water Risk.
But the new rules might cause problems from some big-polluting sectors already battling a slowing economy.
"For the textiles sector, the new standard will come into effect in 2015 and since there is no cheap way to clean up, smaller factories may face difficulties in complying with the new regulations."
The data came as the state-owned China Securities Journal reported that the ministry is readying a 2 trillion yuan ($326 billion) plan to clean up polluted water, including waste water deemed so polluted it is not even fit for industrial use.
The MEP was not immediately available for comment.
Some regions in China, especially the north, is naturally short of water, and with the added stress of widespread pollution experts say food production and energy generation could be threatened unless the government takes action.
China has already launched a $63 billion project to transfer water from the water-rich southern and central parts north to Beijing and other under-pressure regions.
(The story corrects to transpose percentage numbers in paragraph 3.)
(Reporting by Kathy Chen and Stian Reklev; Editing by Nick Macfie)