by Xinhua writer Gui Tao
BEIJING, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- Water can both carry and overturn a boat. The old words of wisdom by Emperor Li Shimin nearly 1,400 years ago still shed light today after concerns over water pollution and contamination gripped two Chinese cities.
A chemical plant aniline leak in north China's Shanxi Province contaminated a river and cut off water supplies to Handan City which lies on the river's lower reaches.
The contamination only came to light five days after the leak was discovered, triggering speculation of a cover-up.
While it may take a few weeks to clean the river in Shanxi, as experts estimated, the 20 million residents in Beijing are waiting for a response from the government after the national capital was embarrassed by a media report that said inappropriate sewage discharge and garbage disposal led to the deteriorating quality of tap water.
The report quoted a couple who are water research experts saying that they have been drinking bottled water over the past two decades due to concerns.
Online posts about the report went viral in cyberspace, prompting public worries and complaints over the water quality of the metropolis.
Water is no small matter considering a series of massive protests against pollution in recent years as a result of the public's increasing awareness of rights to safeguard their benefits.
The protests forced chemical plants and smelters in the country into closure and resulted in dismissals of officials.
If the public concerns are not addressed with discretion and sincerity, companies and local officials may be trapped in a "watergate" crisis.
Government and water company officials should realize the seriousness of all incidents, which have seen disgruntled netizens demanding the truth about the natural resource they are drinking every day.
They should be aware that sensitive water safety issues, which concern every resident in the city, can easily escalate into a flashpoint of the next protest if they are not well handled.
Honesty is the best policy. Thorough investigations into the two water issues should be conducted and the results should be accessible to the public. Clear explanations should also be given to defuse concerns over any cover-up.
These should not be difficult as long as the officials remember the emperor's epigram to ensure that the water carrying the boat does not overwhelm it.