WUXI - Officials promised swift steps on Friday to clean up China's
third-largest lake after algae, floating like green oil paint, choked off water
to this city of more than 2.3 million amid a public outcry about pollution.
Taihu Lake in Jiangsu province has been struck by a rapidly spreading canopy
of algae which has left water supplies for nearby Wuxi undrinkable.
Convoys of trucks have been bringing bottled water for residents, with the
supermarket price slashed by government order to stop profiteering.
Queues were forming at some shops and some stall-holders were charging extra
for the water -- and charging separately for the bottle that contained it, one
Thick slicks of the algae hugged the lake edge, giving off an overpowering
smell of rotting meat. A stone thrown into it took a long time to sink. The tap
water in the hotel had the same smell.
"The government said it is safe to drink boiled water," said a 65-year-old
retired worker surnamed Wang. "But it has a green film on the surface. How can I
Many of China's lakes and rivers are threatened by run-off from fertilisers,
industrial waste and untreated sewage. Algae blooms can burst out in water that
is rich in nutrients from farm and domestic run-off, which Taihu Lake has in
The provincial Communist Party chief, Li Yuanchao, said the water was
improving as officials drew flows from the Yangtze River and stopped pumping in
waste, according to a report posted by the State Environmental Protection
Administration (SEPA) (www.sepa.gov.cn).
But he acknowledged the scare exposed deeper failings.
"In future development we must be determined to make stronger efforts to
clean up Taihu Lake and ensure its water quality and safety," Li said. Small
chemical plants around the lake must be closed and more waste water plants must
be built, he ordered.
Xinhua, citing an official with the Ministry of Health,
said the government planned to extend its drinking water monitoring network this
year to include more rural areas.
A Wuxi official, Zhu Zhongxian, claimed the water was now safe -- despite the
"Water quality on every indicator meets national standards and it's not
toxic," the Nanjing Morning Post quoted him as saying.
Rockets containing silver iodide were fired at eight spots around the lake to
induce artificial rainfall to help flush out the algae, Xinhua news agency
But residents and media said the emergency steps exposed a long-term failure
to protect lakes and rivers, battered by pollution and strained by population
and economic growth.
In 2005, millions of residents of Harbin in northeast China had their taps
turned off for weeks after a toxic spill.
The problem was a symptom of widespread environmental destruction threatening
water sources, said one commentator.
"Along with our country's rapid economic growth there's been a constant
build-up of pollution and checks on it have lagged," said the commentary on the
Web site of the People's Daily, the Communist Party's newspaper
"Our country's environmental protection has reached a crisis point."
Ding Luhui, a sales manager of a lakeside property project, said clients had
called him up to ask about the pollution and he was worried about cancellations.
"I can't see any effect on sales yet," he said. "But maybe it is too early to