Authorities in Wuxi , Jiangsu province , vowed yesterday to improve the quality of the city's fetid water and ensure safe supplies to residents 'at any cost', after an algal bloom contaminated the city's tap water this week.
A blue-green algal bloom in the heavily polluted Tai Lake has turned the tap water for most of Wuxi's 5-million-plus residents into an unpleasant stream since Tuesday and prompted panicked citizens to buy bottled water.
Despite the municipal government saying that apart from the smell the water is within safe chemical and biological limits, some people are worried that using the water for bathing could cause skin problems.
Authorities said that only the eastern part of the city serviced by the Xidong waterworks had odour-free water. It supplies about a third of the city's tap water and pumped out 300,000 tonnes on Wednesday.
Tai Lake, Wuxi's sole water source, is fed by a tributary of the Yangtze River.
The algae is a naturally occurring organism in the waterways but higher-than-normal temperatures in the area have been blamed for fostering growth. The bloom also has been helped by a lack of rain, favourable wind conditions and the lowest water level in the lake in five decades.
Wuxi party secretary Yang Weize pledged to spare no effort to guarantee the safety of drinking water.
The crisis prompted Mayor Mao Xiaoping to cut short a trip to Europe and board a flight home.
At an emergency meeting on Wednesday, authorities decided to allow more water from the Yangtze River and local streams to flow into Tai Lake in the hope of improving its water quality.
In addition, city water plants have been told to speed up filtration of lake water and use more cleansing aids such as activated carbon. Artificial rainmaking was scheduled for yesterday and today.
Bottled water supplies at more than 20 major Wuxi supermarkets were selling out as fast as they could be stocked. Water price rises were prohibited, the authorities said.
But some residents said street vendors were selling 18-litre bottles for as much as 50 yuan, or five times the usual going rate.
The 2,425 sq km Tai Lake was once famed for its clean water and delicious fish. But now it is notorious for serious contamination brought on by a decade of industrial growth.