China has experienced rapid population growth and increasing human N and P discharge from point sources. This paper presents a new spatial and temporal model-based, province-scale inventory of N and P in wastewater using detailed information on the location and functioning of 4436 WWTPs covering China for the period 1970–2015.
China's nutrient discharge to surface water increased 22-fold from 177 to 3908 Gg N yr−1 and 29-fold from 20 to 577 Gg P yr−1 in urban areas between 1970 and 2015. The ten strongly urbanized and industrialized provinces along the Eastern coast contributed 43 % of China's total N and P discharge to surface water in 2015. At present, the contribution of rural areas to total wastewater discharge (2082 Gg N yr−1 and 434 Gg P yr−1) is 35 % for N and 43 % for P. The model approach and sensitivity analysis of this study indicate that policies aiming at improving water quality need to consider these regional differences, i.e., improvement of the wastewater treatment technology level in Eastern regions and increasing both the sewage connection and wastewater treatment in Central and Western regions.