Hopes Lake Tai cleanup will cut down algal bloom

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2008, 12:00am

Blue-green algae will reappear in Lake Tai this summer, but residents of Wuxi expect it will be less severe after government efforts to clean up pollutants.

And the fiasco that forced millions of residents to rely on bottled water last year will not be repeated because a freshwater supply from the Yangtze River is now available, with construction work of the diversion completed on Saturday, according to the city's media.

The arrival of drinking water from the Yangtze River means that Wuxi residents will have an alternative when the quality of Lake Tai water deteriorates.

Lake Tai, China's third-largest freshwater lake, experienced an unprecedented blue-green algal bloom last summer. The algae has been attacking the lake every summer for the past decade but last summer's outbreak was the worst on record.

The toxic and foul-smelling algae destroyed plants and fish, triggered government panic and forced residents of nearby Wuxi, in Jiangsu province , to turn off contaminated tap water supplies and switch to bottled water for drinking and showering.

The algal blooms are part of a fallout from decades of breakneck industrialisation and lax environmental controls. Lake Tai, famed for centuries for its beauty, has become one of the mainland's most polluted bodies of water.

Government figures show more than 70 per cent of waterways and 90 per cent of underground water supplies are polluted. Premier Wen Jiabao described the algae scare as a pollution wake-up call.

Wuxi Deputy Mayor Fang Wei said about 700 small and medium-sized factories on the banks of the lake had been closed since then.

'All of them were polluting industries, such as chemical plants,' Mr Fang said.

He said about 2,000 factories would be closed by the end of this year.

Large factories with the know-how and financial capability to upgrade their pollution treatment facilities were asked to move inland. People living near the lake were also moved. Mr Fang did not disclose the number of people affected.

The factories and the residents were blamed for illegally diverting untreated industrial and domestic water to the lake, causing pollution and algal blooms.

'We need to work harder to improve the lake's water quality and protect its environment from further damage,' Mr Fang said.

Nearby Nanjing has embarked on a similar cleanup programme.

Its city government has invested 3.5 billion yuan (HK$3.9 billion) to treat its landmark Qinhuai River by removing industries from its banks in an attempt to beautify the area.

Pharmaceutical, chemical, paper, steel and shoe factories and illegal residential buildings polluted and narrowed the river.

In the late 1990s, the narrowing of the river put Nanjing at risk of flooding several times.

Kong Qiyuan , deputy director of Nanjing's economic committee, said steel and chemical plants were moved to the city's outskirts and other factories were closed down.

Workers were put on social welfare. Mr Kong did not say how many workers were affected, but said they were better off under social welfare than working. Most of the plants were state owned, he said, so there was no need to compensate the factory owners.

Some 4,000 families who had lived along the river had their homes demolished and were moved to government subsidised housing.

In order to subsidise the beautification project, land was sold to property developers for luxury housing and the management of the river and its banks was outsourced to a tourism company.

Environmentalists remain sceptical about the effectiveness of the schemes.

Wang Yongchen , of the Beijing-based Green Earth Volunteers, said: 'Instead of forcing them to move, which is totally unfair to them, they should figure out how to clean up the water without sacrificing the people.'

Dirty business

With a burgeoning manufacturing industry, pollution has become a huge problem in China

The amount of mainland waterways affected by pollution is more than 70%