Environmental Management

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 105–112 | Cite as

A Drinking Water Crisis in Lake Taihu, China: Linkage to Climatic Variability and Lake Management

  • Boqiang Qin
  • Guangwei Zhu
  • Guang Gao
  • Yunlin Zhang
  • Wei Li
  • Hans W. Paerl
  • Wayne W. Carmichael


In late May, 2007, a drinking water crisis took place in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, China, following a massive bloom of the toxin producing cyanobacteria Microcystis spp. in Lake Taihu, China’s third largest freshwater lake. Taihu was the city’s sole water supply, leaving approximately two million people without drinking water for at least a week. This cyanobacterial bloom event began two months earlier than previously documented for Microcystis blooms in Taihu. This was attributed to an unusually warm spring. The prevailing wind direction during this period caused the bloom to accumulate at the shoreline near the intake of the water plant. Water was diverted from the nearby Yangtze River in an effort to flush the lake of the bloom. However, this management action was counterproductive, because it produced a current which transported the bloom into the intake, exacerbating the drinking water contamination problem. The severity of this microcystin toxin containing bloom and the ensuing drinking water crisis were attributable to excessive nutrient enrichment; however, a multi-annual warming trend extended the bloom period and amplified its severity, and this was made worse by unanticipated negative impacts of water management. Long-term management must therefore consider both the human and climatic factors controlling these blooms and their impacts on water supply in this and other large lakes threatened by accelerating eutrophication.


Cyanobacteria Blooms Microcystins Cyanotoxin Drinking water Large lakes Eutrophication Climate Water management 



Jiang Ji and Sheng Feng helped collect water samples and assisted with nutrient analyses. Ge Yu provided the GCM simulation projection. Qiaohua Zhao provided meteorological data for the Taihu Basin and surrounding area. We thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. This collaborative work is supported by the Chinese National Science Foundation (Contract: 40730529, 40825004), Chinese Academy of Sciences (Contract: kzcx2-yw-419), the US Environmental Protection Agency (Project 83335101-0), the US National Science Foundation (CBET Program) Project 0826819 and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration-US EPA Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB) Program, Project NA05NOS4781194.


  1. Albay M, Akcaalan R, Tufekci H, Metcalf JS, Beattie KA, Codd GA (2003) Depth profile of cyanobacterial hepatotoxins(microcystins) in three turkish freshwater lakes. Hydrobiologia 505(1–3):89–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alonso-Andicoberry C, Garcia-Villada L, Lopez-Rodas V, Costas E (2002) Catastrophic mortality of flamingos in a Spanish national park caused by cyanobacteria. Veterinary Record 151(23):706–707Google Scholar
  3. Bates BC, Kundzewicz ZW, Wu S, Palutikof JP (eds) (2008) Climate change and water, technical paper of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. IPCC Secretariat, Geneva, 210 ppGoogle Scholar
  4. Carmichael WW (2001) Health effects of toxin producing cyanobacteria: the cyanoHABs. Human Ecological Risk Assessment 7:1393–1407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carmichael WW, Azevedo MFO, An JS, Molica RJR, Jochimsen EM, Lau S (2001) Human fatalities from cyanobacteria: chemical and biological evidence for cyanotoxins. Environmental Health Perspectives 109(7):663–668CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chen W, Song LR, Peng L, Wan N, Zhang XM, Gan NQ (2008) Reduction in microcystin concentrations in large and shallow lakes: Water and sediment-interface contributions. Water Research 42:763–773CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chen YW, Qin BQ, Teubner K, Dokulil MT (2003a) Long-term dynamics of phytoplankton assemblages: Microcystis-domination in Lake Taihu, a large shallow lake in China. Journal of Plankton Research 25:445–453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chen YW, Fan CX, Teubner K, Dokullil M (2003b) Changes of nutrients and phytoplankton chlorophyll-a in a large shallow lake, Taihu, China: an 8-year investigation. Hydrobiologia 506(509):273–279CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Codd GA, Bell SG, Kaya K, Ward CJ, Beattie KA, Metcalf JS (1999) Cyanobacterial toxins, exposure routes and human health. European Journal of Phycology 34:405–415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Duan H, Ma R, Xu X, Kong F, Zhang S, Kong W, Hao J, Shang L (2009) Two decade reconstruction of algal blooms in China’s Lake Taihu. Environmental Science and Technology 43:3522–3528CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fogg GE (1969) The physiology of an algal nuisance. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B 173:175–189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Guo L (2007) Doing battle with the green monster of Lake Taihu. Science 317:1166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hawkins PR, Runnegar MT, Jackson AR, Falconer IR (1985) Severe hepatotoxicity caused by the tropical cyanobacterium (blue-green alga) Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii (Woloszynska) Seenaya and Subba Raju isolated from a domestic water supply reservoir. Applied Environmental Microbiology 50:1292–1295Google Scholar
  14. Hu WP, Zhai SJ, Zhu ZC, Han HJ (2008) Impacts of the Yangtze River water transfer on the restoration of Lake Taihu. Ecological Engineering 34(1):30–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Huang WY, Xu G, Wu QL, Qin BQ (2008) Pollution and eutrophication. In: Qin BQ (ed) Lake Taihu, China, dynamics and environmental change. Springer Science+Business Media B.V., pp 23–42Google Scholar
  16. Hudnell HK (2008) Cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms-state of the science and research needs. Proceedings of the interagency, international symposium on cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms. RTP North Carolina, Sept. 2005. Advances in experimental medicine and biology, vol 619, 949 pp. Springer Science.Google Scholar
  17. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2007) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. In: Solomon S, Qin D, Manning M (eds) Contribution of working group I to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UKGoogle Scholar
  18. James RT, Havens K, Zhu GW, Qin BQ (2009) Comparative analysis of nutrients, chlorophyll and transparency in two large shallow lakes (Lake Taihu, P.R. China and Lake Okeechobee, USA). Hydrobiologia (in press)Google Scholar
  19. Jöhnk KD, Huisman J, Sharples J, Sommeijer B, Visser PM, Stroom JM (2008) Summer heatwaves promote blooms of harmful cyanobacteria. Global Change Biology 14:495–512CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kouzminov A, Ruck J, Wood SA (1996) New Zealand risk management approach for toxic cyanobacteria in drinking water. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 31(3):275–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Li W, Zhang CK, Wang RY (2007) A numerical storm surge model based on unstructured meshes and finite volume method. Journal of Tropical Oceanography 26(2):9–14 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  22. Lin YD, Yu SZ, Xu M, Yang JB, Chen Y, Hu L (2003) A study on the relationship between Wuxi Taihu waters pollution by algae toxin and health of the population. Shanghai Journal of Preventitive Medicine 15:435–437 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  23. Murphy T, Lawson A, Nalewajko C, Murkin H, Ross L, Oguma K, McIntyre T (2000) Algal toxins - Initiators of avian botulism? Environmental Toxicology 15:558–567CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. National Climatic Data Center (2007) Climate of 2007—February in historical perspective.
  25. National Research Council (NRC) (2000) Clean coastal waters: understanding and reducing the effects of nutrient pollution. National Academy Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  26. National Research Council (NRC) (2006) Surface Temperature Reconstructions For the Last 2, 000 Years. National Academy Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  27. Paerl HW (1988) Nuisance phytoplankton blooms in coastal, estuarine, and inland waters. Limnology and Oceanography 33:823–847CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Paerl HW, Fulton RS (2006) Ecology of harmful cyanobacteria. In: Graneli E, Turner J (eds) Ecology of harmful marine algae. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, pp 95–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Paerl HW, Huisman J (2008) Blooms like it hot. Science 320:57–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pu P, Yan J (1998) Taihu Lake–a large shallow lake in the East China plain. Journal of Lake Sciences (China) 10(suppl):1–12Google Scholar
  31. Pyo D, Jin J (2007) Production and degradation of cyanobacterial toxin in water reservoir, Lake Soyang. Bulletin of Korean Chemistry Society 28(5):800–804Google Scholar
  32. Qin BQ, Xu PZ, Wu QL, Luo LC, Zhang YL (2007) Environmental issues of Lake Taihu, China. Hydrobiologia 581:3–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Saker ML, Thomas AD, Norton JH (1999) Cattle mortality attributed to the toxic cynaobacterium Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii in an outback region of North Queensland. Environmental Toxicology 14(1):179–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Shen PP, Shi Q, Hua ZC, Kong FX, Wang ZG, Zhuang SX (2003) Analysis of microcystins in cyanobacteria blooms and surface water samples from Meiliang Bay, Taihu Lake, China. Environment International 29:641–647CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Song LR, Chen W, Peng L, Wan N, Gan NQ, Zhang XM (2007) Distribution and bioaccumulation of microcystins in water columns: A systematic investigation into the environmental fate and the risks associated with microcystins in Meiliang Bay, Lake Taihu. Water Research 41:2853–2864CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Teixera MGLC, Costa MCN, Carvalho VLP, Pereira MS, Hage E (1993) Gastroenteritis epidemic in the area of the Itaparica Dam, Bahia, Brazil. Bulletin of Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) 27(3):244–253 (1993)Google Scholar
  37. Van Ginkel CE (2001) Toxic algal incident in the Grootdraai Dam, 2001. Internal report No. N/C110/02/DEQ/0401. Institute for Water Quality Studies. Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, Pretoria, South AfricaGoogle Scholar
  38. Wang M, Shi W (2008) Satellite-observed algae blooms in China’s Lake Taihu. EOS 89(22):201–202Google Scholar
  39. World Heath Organization (WHO) (1998) Guidelines for drinking water quality, Addendum to vol 1, 2nd ed. World Health Organization, Recommendations. GenevaGoogle Scholar
  40. Xu PZ, Qin BQ, Horst B, Huang WY, Yu SM, Zhang YP (2006) Nitrogen surplus of upstream agriculture land of Lake Taihu and eutrophication impact. Journal of Lake Sciences 18(4):395–400 (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  41. Yang M, Yu JW, Li ZL, Guo ZH, Burch M, Lin TF (2008) Taihu Lake not to blame for Wuxi’s woes. Science 319:158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Zhu GW (2008) Eutrophic status and causing factors for a large, shallow and subtropical Lake Taihu, China. Journal of Lake Sciences 20(1):21–26 (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Boqiang Qin
    • 1
  • Guangwei Zhu
    • 1
  • Guang Gao
    • 1
  • Yunlin Zhang
    • 1
  • Wei Li
    • 1
  • Hans W. Paerl
    • 2
  • Wayne W. Carmichael
    • 3
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Lake Science and EnvironmentNanjing Institute of Geography & Limnology, Chinese Academy of SciencesNanjingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Institute of Marine SciencesUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillMorehead CityUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesWright State UniversityDaytonUSA

Personalised recommendations