The Hsinchu-Miaoli area is facing a drought and the Ministry of Economic Affairs has arranged for farmland in the Touchien River (頭前溪) watershed to lie fallow, diverting water originally intended for irrigation purposes to the Hsinchu Science-based Industrial Park for manufacturing. The government has provided NT$290 million to subsidize farmers' losses and asked the Taiwan Water Supply Corp (TWSC, 台灣自來水公司) to allocate another NT$800 million in subsidies.
From the government's res-ponse to the drought, it is difficult to see what value water has as a resource. It is still the citizens of the country who ultimately bear the brunt of the losses incurred, because regardless of whether it is the government or the TWSC that allocates the subsidies, the money comes from taxpayers. Therefore, it is worth taking a close look at what exactly is going on with our water resources and national land- development policies.
First of all, there has been no sign of any of the appropriate government agencies following up on whether each factory has honored its environmental impact commitments by recycling at least 80 percent of the wastewater from manufacturing. Nor is it clear whether the Hsinchu park has achieved the goal of recycling at least 75 percent of the water used there or whether it has made accommodations to the drought by recycling water at an even higher rate.
Second, water resources are even more valuable during the dry season, when the rivers run low. Has the TWSC drawn up dry-season price differentials to sell water at more than the usual cost? At the very least, they ought to calculate water prices at a rate sufficient to compensate farmers for their losses in order to provide water to the entire region and reflect actual costs.
Pricing should be used to control water consumption and strengthen efforts to conserve water as well as to increase the recycling of waste water. Price differentials should be set for the entire country to reflect the real value of water resources.
Droughts are periodic, but the demand for water increases without limit. The sources of water are limited, so there will inevitably be annual shortages. The industries that have been developed in recent years consume very large amounts of both energy and water. Many of them, however, have been established in areas where water is scarce. At present industrial parks are expanding, for example, at three sites in the Hsinchu-Miaoli area. It is already known from environmental im-pact assessments that these areas are short of water and will be unable to provide the volume of water needed once the industries are up and running.
Under current policy and pressure from local lawmakers and leaders, government agencies in charge of water resources can only submit to the demands of industry and cooperate by providing enough water to use until next year, without being able to guarantee the supply of water that will be needed after that. But once the industrial parks expand again, these agencies will have the responsibility for providing those resources. They will then inevitably head down the road of letting farmland lie fallow in order to divert water for industrial use.
The national land-development policy has been ignored for too long, without additional legislation to enforce the practicable management and development of land and resources. Instead, a free rein has been given for industrial districts in areas where water is scarce. This has resulted in annual water shortages and unreasonable compensation policies for damage caused by the lack of water resources.