Chinese leader to prioritise water quality

China's fresh water supplies should be managed and be handled as a major national priority and a "State project", Premier Wen Jiabao has said.

The Premier’s comments to state controlled media network China Daily come after a string of algae outbreaks have contaminated drinking water supplies.

The most recent incident occurred earlier this week, cutting off about 200,000 people from their tap water in the Shuyang County in Jiangsu Province.

The Shanghai Daily reported that residents in the area did not have access to tap water for 40 hours after inspectors on Monday found the county’s water plant was contaminated by pollutants from the upper reaches of Xinyi River which originates in the neighbouring province of Shandong.

The water was said to be smelly, containing excessive ammonia and nitrogen.

The state newspaper also reported the county has opened 33 wells and

13 pumping stations to release water to ease demand and diverted water from Hongze Lake to dilute the polluted water source.

Premier Wen Jiabao promised to address the water pollution issue with urgency. China Daily reported him as saying: “We need to take environmental management of the three lakes as a state project and put it at a more prominent, pressing and important position.

“The priority is to protect the lakes from further pollution and ensure the safety of drinking water for the local residents.”

Since May, blue-green algae outbreaks have also been reported in eastern Taihu Lake, Chaohu Lake and southwestern Dianchi Lake.

According to state reports, the string of water crises will force China to adopt a new national compulsory drinking water safety standard from this month to secure safe water supplies for citizens.

The new standard is the first amendment to the outdated former one, enacted in 1985. According to the amendments, a total of 106 parameters have been developed.

Chen Changjie, a researcher on environment protection with the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, told China Daily that when all the parametres under the new standard are fully met, people should be able to drink water straight from the tap.

He said: “To be more exact, the tap water is safe to drink without boiling with the pretext of no second-time contamination during the transfusion, as long as the 42 regular parameters under the new standard are met,” Chen said.

“Most of the time, the water fresh from the supplier is up to the standard and safe for direct use. However, the pipes used to deliver the water to the consumer remains substandard.”

It is expected that all standards be fully implemented nationally by 2012.

Dana Gornitzki

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