China to spend $14.5 billion to clean up lake


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Algae bloom had blocked water supplies to millions of people in summer

A view of the blue-green algae bloom affecting Taihu Lake in Wuxi, the second largest city of eastern China's Jiangsu province on June 1.

BEIJING - China has announced a multibillion-dollar plan to clean up a severely polluted lake where an algae bloom forced the suspension of water supplies to millions of people this summer.

The $14.5 billion plan to clean up Lake Tai, in a densely populated area northwest of Shanghai, should take five years, said a statement dated Friday and posted on a government Web site of the nearby city of Taizhou.

The move comes amid mounting official urgency about curbing chronic pollution in China's rivers and lakes that has left millions of people without clean water and disrupted city water systems.

Blamed on pollution

Lake Tai is one of a series of lakes where blooms of blue-green algae blamed on pollution have disrupted water supplies this year. Some types of the algae can produce dangerous toxins.

"The plan will control the eutrophication of Lake Tai in five years and realize the clear improvement of water quality," the government statement said. "In another eight to 10 years, the problem of the Lake Tai water pollution will be basically resolved."

The algae bloom on Lake Tai in June prompted the suspension of running water in and around the major city of Wuxi for six days, forcing as many as 5 million people to rely on bottled water.

The algae covered as much as one-third of Lake Tai, a popular tourist attraction that has become badly polluted as the Wuxi area developed into a center for manufacturing and high technology.

Regulators responded by ordering the mass closure of chemical plants that dumped waste into the lake.

The pollution of Lake Tai has been politically sensitive for local authorities. An environmentalist who spent years collecting water samples from Lake Tai and warning about rising pollution was sentenced to prison in August on charges that he blackmailed polluters. His supporters said the charges were retaliation for his activism.

Others suffered algae blooms

Other lakes that suffered algae blooms this year included Chao in eastern China and Dianchi near the southwestern city of Kunming. There was no immediate word on possible cleanup plans for those lakes.

Environmental regulators say China's rivers and lakes are so polluted that tens of millions of people have no access to clean drinking water.

The deputy director the State Environmental Protection Administration said in July that one-quarter of the length of China's seven major rivers is so dirty that even touching the water can be harmful to the skin.

The agency imposed a moratorium on new industrial development in 13 locations along four major rivers to prevent additional pollution.

State media regularly report incidents in which cities are forced to temporarily suspend running water due to chemicals in lakes or rivers from pollution or industrial accidents.

Lower-level authorities often are accused of failing to enforce environmental rules or even blocking regulators in order to protect local businesses. Regulators complain that factories ignore orders to close or bar inspectors.

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