China has stepped up the
diversion of the Yangtze River to dilute water polluted by blue-green algae in a
lake that provides drinking water for millions of people in the eastern Chinese
city of Wuxi, Jiangsu Province.
Major supermarket chains have transported emergent supply of
bottled water from neighboring cities to the eastern Chinese city of Wuxi
in Jiangsu Province to relieve the severe water shortage. Local citizens
are buying the bottled water on May 31, 2007. [Xinhua]
the nation's longest river is flowing into Taihu lake at a rate of 150 cubic
meters per second, up from the earlier 127 cubic meters per second, and the lake
has received a total of 190 million cubic meters of Yangtze water since May 11,
said the Taihu Valley Administration under the Water Resources Ministry on
Wuxi, an economically dynamic city that administers six districts in the city
proper and two other small cities in the outer areas, has a total population of
4.57 million and 2.32 million are in the city districts.
The affected population is mostly in the city districts, accounting for 80
percent of the total, according to the local government.
The Taihu Valley Administration said Thursday that the water supply from the
Xidong Tap Water Company, which supplies 20 percent of the downtown urban
population, was not affected.
But the water supply from the Xiaowanli Tap Water Company in Wuxi has not
resumed after supply was halted on May 22 when the Taihu Lake started to stink
with a blue-green algae bloom.
Citizens are complaining that the tap water is so putrid that they can not
wash with it.
"The tap water stinks and has a yellowish color, the whole family has not
taken a shower for two days," said Shi Xiuying, a resident of Nanchang District.
The water level in three old wells in Shi's neighborhood is dropping quickly
as residents rush to stock up.
A large algae-choked area was visible near Nanquan, a major water plant for
Wuxi Tap Water Supply Company, where some workers were trying to remove the
algae on Thursday.
"The water quality is far beyond the limits of drinking water treatment. It
should be treated in sewage plants," said Zhou Liusong, a worker at the Nanquan
The pollution had resulted in panic buying of bottled water and bread in
Wuxi, which had prompted the price of an 18-liter bottle of water sold by street
peddlers to rise from eight yuan to 50 yuan by Wednesday night.
A downtown Walmart outlet strictly rationed sales of 500 milliliter bottles
of water to a 24-bottle box per person.
"Bottled water is now sold out and we are transferring 1,000 boxes from
nearby cities," said Shangguan Xiaoling, a member of Walmart's staff, on
"It is hard to say when the algae outbreak will clear, and we are taking
measures to reduce the impact," said Zhu Zhongxian, vice secretary-general of
the Wuxi municipal government, at a press conference on Thursday.
In addition to diverting the Yangtze River water, the city government is
planning to artificially induce rain in the coming days to dilute the polluted
The Wuxi Tap Water Supply Company is also pumping a large amount of active
carbon and potassium permanganate into the lake in an attempt to purify the
Local authorities are closely monitoring supplies of bottled water in 10
supermarkets and have allocated more bottled water from neighboring cities of
Suzhou, Changzhou, Nanjing and Shanghai.
The city's pricing bureau issued a circular on Wednesday to ban water price
hikes. Vendors who deliberately drive up water prices may face fines of up to
300,000 yuan (39,200 U.S. dollars), it said.
The local environmental agency is monitoring the water quality around the
Suzhou, a city neighboring Wuxi, was not affected even though it also takes a
domestic waster supply from Taihu Lake because the parts of the lake that
provided drinking water for the city were not polluted, said Xia Jian, deputy
director of the Suzhou Municipal Water Resources Bureau.
Shanghai, about 128 km southeast of Wuxi, was not affected, either, because
it mainly uses the Huangpu River for drinking water, which did not suffer the
algae outbreak, according to local water authorities.
Blue-green algae is a form of aquatic plant that occurs naturally in rivers,
lakes, damp soil, tree trunks, hot springs and snow.
"Bloom" is the common term used to describe an increase in the number of
algal cells to a point where they discolor the water, form scum, produce
unpleasant tastes and odors, affect shellfish and fish populations or otherwise
create a nuisance and seriously reduce water quality.
Initial investigations show the water level of Taihu Lake is at its lowest in
50 years this summer due to continuous high temperatures and lack of rainfall,
which have led to an excess of nutrients in the water.
Taihu Lake is a scenic attraction famous for its aquatic life, including
whitebait, shrimps, lily and water chestnuts. But today the lake is a malodorous
shadow of its former self as a result of pollution.
Qin Boqiang, research fellow of the Nanjing Institute of Geography and Lakes
Studies under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that pollution from
industry, agriculture and domestic waste also caused an excess of nutrients in
the water of the Taihu Lake.
"The algae crisis is teaching us a serious lesson, and we must earnestly
solve pollution problems that are threatening the lake," he