Sat, Mar 23, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Time to act to save water resources

By Chen Kuo-cheng 陳國成

The whole of Taiwan is praying that spring rains will soon arrive. The effectiveness of artificial rain-making projects, whether they involve aerial spraying or ground-based stations, depend upon suitable weather condi-tions. Such efforts have only a limited ability to alleviate the symptoms of drought. At best, they can only increase rainfall by about 10 percent.

The most important work to be done is the planting of forests, the development of new water sources, the establishment of a sound early-warning system for water shortages and the effective conservation of water.

There are numerous difficulties associated with the construction of reservoirs. At present, the volume of silt in the nation's primary reservoirs exceeds the capacity of the Mingte Reservoir (明德水庫). Meanwhile, the eutrophication (the process by which a body of water becomes enriched with dissolved nutrients that stimulate the growth of aquatic plant life often resulting in the depletion of dissolved oxygen) of reservoirs is becoming more serious by the day.

Such matters as repairing reservoirs, dredging them of silt, conservation of water resources and better cultivation of forests all demand immediate attention.

In the past, forestry agencies carried out "monoculture" refor-estation plans, thereby degrading the quality of the forests. Careful selection of tree varieties should be carried out in accordance with the recommendations of forestry experts.

More importantly, we must come to understand nature's mechanism for fostering a wide variety of life in a single ecosystem. At the Arbor Day meeting of the Council of Agriculture's For-estry Bureau, Premier Yu Shyi-kun advocated forestation by "scientific means." But scientific means must still take natural ecosystems into account. Scientific management must consider the natural conditions of the ecological environment and develop land in better harmony with nature. It is not a matter of man conquering nature and reshaping nature according to his own design.

Today the "if not drought then flooding" phenomenon is getting more and more pronounced. Water supply has become a matter of such opposite extremes that the dry season is often so dry that there are water shortages and the wet season so wet that there are floods everywhere. In fact, Tai-wan's average annual per capita precipitation is approximately 400m2, just one-sixth of the global average. In other words, Taiwan is an arid country. This is truly ironic, and it also serves as a warning.

These kinds of crises -- especially in downstream areas -- owe more to man-made causes than to any "acts of God." Primary causes include the short life spans of reservoirs, reduced water-storage volume, the inappropriate regulation of water levels, imbalances in land usage, an over-emphasis on exports, agricultural decline resulting in reduced conservation and retention of rain water, expanding urbanization and distorted prosperity, the combination of which complicates and aggravates matters.

I recommend that three courses of action be simultaneously adopted to relieve the drought.

First, on the policy level, "soil and water conservation" should be replaced with "soil and water restoration," so that natural resources will retain the natural balance of species. By the supplementation of existing ecology through cultivation, maintenance, breeding, and conservation, the balance and vitality of the forests can be maintained.

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