The top environmental official has called for improved measures to protect the country's lakes, warning that a major outbreak of blue-green algae may hit the nation's three major water systems.
Addressing a meeting of environmental officials in Hefei, east China's Anhui Province, on Thursday, State Environment Protection Administration (SEPA) Minister Zhou Shengxian said that Caohu Lake, Dianchi Lake and the tributaries near the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, the country's longest, may be hit.
Zhou said high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water, which foster outbreaks of algae, remain a major problem for the country's natural lakes, which are disappearing at a rate of 20 a year.
SEPA has imposed a number of bans in areas near the Taihu, Chaohu and Dianchi lakes.
All projects involving discharges containing ammonia and phosphorus were prohibited in those areas, while the production, use and sale of detergents containing phosphorous was also banned around the lake drainage areas.
In addition, all fish farms will be removed from the three lakes by the end of next year.
In an interview with People's Daily, Zhou said that the country now has enough "economic strength" to afford to let some areas "recover in peace."
"The rapid economic growth of some places is at the cost of the environment," he was quoted as saying.
"We may have to sacrifice a little speed in terms of economic development at the first stage of recovery, but what we gain is an improvement of economic and environment quality as well as long-term steady development," he said.
Large-scale algae outbreaks hit several major fresh lakes in the country this summer, sparking a new round of concern over the deteriorating quality of the nation's water supplies.
Notably, a severe algae bloom in Taihu Lake threatened the safety of drinking water in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, a city with a population of almost 6 million.
As a demonstration of his determination, Li Yuanchao, the Party secretary of Jiangsu Province, vowed to radically overhaul the environment of Taihu Lake, even if this impacts local economic growth.
Speaking at a State Council meeting on Wednesday, Premier Wen Jiabao warned of the "grim situation" and "huge difficulty" the nation faced in tackling pollution.
SEPA has rolled out a host of tough new rules to tackle worsening lake pollution while slamming shortsighted policies that encouraged local officials to turn a blind eye to environmental hazards.
Earlier this month, SEPA halted industrial projects in six cities, two counties and five industrial parks in the basins of the Yangtze, Yellow, Huaihe and Haihe rivers, the country's most polluted.
(China Daily July 14, 2007)