Tue, Mar 05, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Planning is needed before taps run dry

By Chiau Wen-yan

Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli are experiencing a glaring shortage of water. Although the government decided to handle the problem by making emergency appropriations of water intended for agricultural use, the threat of a water shortage is still very serious. Water policy could very well be the first challenge for the new Cabinet and the new century. A strategy should be devised as quickly as possible to counter the problem.

The variance in the periods of wet and dry seasons is growing, displaying greater and greater uncertainty. Thus the management of water resources must be considered a vitally important national policy. In the management of water usage as well as the response to droughts and floods, Taiwan must have a basic, long-term strategy characterized by foresight and overall understanding. Problems should not be handled on a case-by-case basis after they have already arisen.

Taiwan's mountainous geography makes it difficult to conserve water resources. We should do our utmost to protect mountain forests, streams and wetlands, letting water naturally seep down to replenish water resources both above and below ground.

But the irony is that on Tai-wan proper, as well as on the nation's offshore islands, streams have been incessantly dredged for years. Waterways have been straightened by truncating the curves and even riverbeds that are the nesting grounds for a variety of wildlife have been lined with cement. The result is that runoff from rainstorms reaches the ocean even more quickly. How can Taiwan do anything but resign itself to fate with such a contradictory concept of water management?

Mayors and county commissioners frequently put on a great show of fighting for water soon after taking office, but I haven't seen anyone take the initiative to establish laws for conserving, protecting, or actively developing water resources. Along the same lines, if the government's administrative apparatus is unable to proactively mobilize people and integrate resources, and if politicians merely hurl accusations back and forth after each disaster, then the water shortage problem will only become more severe.

Since the Hsinchu Science-based Industrial Park is so important, it can't go without either water or electricity. This is basic common sense. Can it be that the authorities responsible for managing the park have no emergency response mechanism in place?

Since 1996 the park has suffered three periods of water shortages. Why has our response been such that we still don't have a comprehensive response strategy in place?

Careful consideration should certainly be given to adjusting the orientation of the industrial park, based on new developments in the cross-strait relationship and WTO membership. The government must take precautions before it is too late, devising a complete strategy to provide the crucially important industrial park with water resources and creating guidelines for manufacturers to conserve water. Otherwise, no matter how much rain falls or how many reservoirs are built, sooner or later water supplies will not be able to keep up with the ever increasing demand.

Household and agricultural water use in surrounding areas must also be considered together with the future development of the industrial park. Having entered the WTO, Taiwan's agricultural development will undoubtedly need to be adjusted. The government should seize this critical moment to outline a new vision for water resources, industry and the people's livelihood on this "green silicon island."

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