In a state run newspaper, officials said the decline was because of a combination of global warming and outdated mapping techniques. Experts, though, say the regime's roughshod environmental record is at play.
"Our research has shown that in some areas, especially in north China, rivers are drying up or turning into seasonal rivers," said Ma Jun, director of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.
China's population is growing fast, and the way people in the country treat the environment—including waterways—is getting worse.
"At the moment, pollution discharge is destroying the limited clean resources we have," Ma said.
Pollution and overpopulation are the two main factors in the dissapearing rivers. Proof of poor environmental stewardship came last month, as more than 6,000 dead pigsand 1,000 dead ducks were found in separate Chinese rivers.
And the population growth has caused Chinese people to use more than 5 times as much water now as in 1949.
Although the words of Chinese officials usually don't mean much, Premier Li Keqiang, considered by some to be a reformer, said that the government should enforce regulations more.
"This government will show even greater resolve and take more vigorous efforts to clean up such pollution," Li said. "We need to face the situation and punish offenders with no mercy and enforce the law with an iron fist."
Photo: A dead pig floats in a river in a town in Jiaxing municipality, east China's Zhejiang province on March 13, 2013. (AFP/Getty Images)