Scientific challenge

The Government of China has set challenging environmental objectives in its 12th 5-year plan. This project aims to support implementation of this plan by developing and demonstrating management tools and practices for pollution reduction. The aim is to develop methods that improve water quality while still preserving economic development potential. This is particularly challenging in many river basins in China where urbanization and the rapid development of industries over the last 20 years has resulted in a grave deterioration of water quality.

Project overview

The SUSTAIN H2O project is supported by the European Commission under the EU-China Environmental Sustainability Programme to support the Chinese authorities in the efforts of achieving environmental sustainability by reducing water and heavy metal pollution and implementing sustainable waste policies. Contract No. DCI-ASIE/2013/323-261.


  • To develop and demonstrate management tools and practices for pollution reduction in the Songhuajiang-Liaohe River Basin (SLRB)
  • To support water quality improvement in the demonstration areas
  • To support China in achieving the environmental objectives designated by the “12th Five-Year Plan”, to strengthen efforts on pollution reduction and management, and to promote prevention and control of water pollution in key river basins and regions in order to achieve environmentally sustainable development

The SUSTAIN H2O project is led by the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences (CRAES), with partners in the Liaoning Academy of Environmental Sciences (LAES) and Heilongjiang Provincial Research Institute of Environmental Science (HRIES) in China, Helmholtz – Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ of Germany, in cooperation with the Centre for Advanced Water Research (CAWR) and the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) in the UK.

The work was divided into four scientific work packages (WP):

  • WP1: Management methods and demonstration on pollution load of SLRB
  • WP2: River health assessment, ecological restoration and management systems;
  • WP3: Management technology and strategy for environmental risk sources and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in Liaohe River Basin;
  • WP4: Sensitive groundwater sources identification and risk reduction management in SLRB;

CEH was involved in WP1 and WP2. Our role was to provide expert guidance and training based on the European experience with the Water Framework Directive and to provide review of methods developed by our Chinese partners, specifically relating to:

  • Assessment of good ecological status
  • Methods of setting consent standards to comply with good status
  • Defining an approach for pollution control zones based on hydrological and administrative considerations.
  • Monitoring protocols for determining the effectiveness of river restoration projects
  • Development of metrics for a river health card
  • Arranging short study tours to the UK for our partners from China.


The main outcomes of the research with CEH contributions were a series of project reports and reviews:

  • A description of methods to define different Aquatic Eco-System Zones within a river system and an application to Liaohe River. Essentially this method divides the river into reaches based on the types of service that the river provides e.g drinking water, fishing, refuge for endangered species with the expectation that this will inform the river management and discharge consents.
  • A description of a method to divide the whole river catchment into pollution control measures taking into account not only the ecological zones of the river, but also the hydrological network and the administrative authorities responsible for controlling discharges (not presently coincident with catchment boundaries). This method is applied to the Ashi and Qinghe Rivers.
  • An analysis of suitable metrics to describe the river ecology of rivers that could be presented in a river report card capable of tracking progress through time. This was applied to Liaohe River as an example.
  • A review of river restoration measures undertaken in the European Union and methods to assess their effectiveness
  • A review of approaches to reference condition setting for Implementation of the Water Framework Directive in EU Member States
  • A review of methods used in the European Union for River Health Assessment

In addition CEH hosted two study tours for 20 Chinese scientists to the UK and organised two workshops in China. The first workshop was on the background to the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and its application in EU member states; the second looked at how the SIMCAT model is used in the UK to set contents to discharge for sewage treatment works and industries.

Principal Investigator

2015 to 2019 Deputy Work package Leader  NanoFASE WP2 Model Development

2014 to 2019 Project Leader of the National Capability Project - Emerging Chemical Risks in Rivers

2013 to 2019 Project leader for NERC CEH input into a "Demonstration of Pollution Discharge Management for Water Quality Improvement in the Songhuajiang-Liaohe River Basin" funded by EU-CHINA Aid.

2013 to 2016 Group Leader Water Resources Assessment