Pollution Control in Taihu Lake to Cost 20 Bil: SEPA

China plans to make enormous investment in five-year programs to curb water pollution of the Taihu Lake area, one of the most populous and prosperous regions of the country.

A total of 243 projects will be constructed to treat wastewater and garbage, to recover ecological environment around the lake, to remove silt, and to reduce pollution from farming and ships, which will cost 21.9 billion yuan (2.6 billion U.S. dollars), according to an official with the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).

The majority of the investment is to come from local budgets, said Lu Xinyuan, director of SEPA's Department of Pollution Control.

Local people and enterprises that have benefited from the region's rapid industrialization and urbanization in the past two decades now have to pay for the treatment of wastewater and garbage.

Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, and Shanghai Municipality have begun to charge fees to fund the operation of waste-disposal facilities, and the fee will go higher gradually, Lu said.

The 2,300-square-kilometer Taihu Lake, vastly located in Jiangsu, is the source of drinking water for 40 million residents around and people in neighboring Shanghai and Zhejiang.

However, the lake, previously dubbed as "a pearl of the Yangtze River delta," has been heavily polluted by industrial waste, untreated sewage, pesticide and fertilizer since the 1980s.

Nitrogen and phosphorus discharged into the lake have caused overgrowth of algae, further deteriorating the water quality.

Lu said the amount of discharged chemical oxygen demand (COD), a major industrial pollutant, has been greatly reduced since pollution control programs were kicked off in 1998.

But nitrogen and phosphorus pollution due to abuse of fertilizer and pesticide, as well as untreated waste from the poultry and livestock industry, has yet to be alleviated, Lu said.

To make the situation worse, about 10 percent of factories, mainly small chemical plants and paper mills, were found to be ignoring the ban to discharge dirty water into the lake, he added.

The State Council, China's cabinet, has approved a 2001-2005 program for water pollution control in Taihu Lake, which requires the total amount of major pollutants discharged into the lake to be reduced by 10-25 percent from the level of the year 2000.

Major measures include the construction of 81 waste disposal plants that can treat 3.91 million tons of wastewater daily, 13 disposal centers of urban garbage and dangerous waste, and 87 facilities to control industrial waste.

The SEPA official, together with an expert from the national environment monitoring network, also ruled out Tuesday the potential safety risk of drinking water in Taihu area since overgrowth of blue algae reportedly caused water pollution in recent days.

The average density of blue algae in every liter of lake water was 18.72 million, far from being high enough to affect the quality of the water, said Ding Zhongyuan, deputy director of the China National Environmental Monitoring Center.

He said the average density has even fallen below last year's average since late August.

In the most polluted waters, blue algae once reportedly reached 384 million per liter this year, still much lower than the 760 million per liter in 1990, when Taihu Lake reported the worst pollution, Lu said.

SEPA has been carrying out close monitoring on water quality of Taihu via 110 manned and three automatic surveillance stations throughout the whole lake area, he said.

(People's Daily 09/12/2001)