Mon, May 13, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Water resources need management

By Wang To-far 王塗發

The drought in Taiwan has already created an nationwide fear of water shortages. The water level in the Feitsui Reservoir has fallen to 133.2m, the lowest level ever recorded at that reservoir.

In response to this year's serious drought, the first stage of water rationing is already being implemented across the island. This means limitations on less important water usage, such as water for swimming pools, fountains, car washes, and irrigation of trees, plants and flowers. The Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli and Chia-yi areas are also lowering nighttime water pressure. How can it be that Taiwan's reservoirs are on the verge of drying out when last autumn saw the Toraji, Nari and Lekima typhoons, which brought with them rarely-experienced amounts of rainfall, filling all the reservoirs in Taiwan to their limits? Wouldn't today's water shortage be even more serious if last year hadn't seen the greatest flood disasters in a very long time?

A water shortage will have a very negative impact on Taiwan's economic development. The problem, therefore, requires thorough discussion.

Taiwan is located in a subtropical area and has an island climate with average annual rainfall at approximately 2,510mm, 2.5 times the global average. However, since rainfall is unevenly distributed and Taiwan's rivers short and turbulent, inappropriate mountain and forest development gradually causes forests to lose the ability to replenish water resources. Typhoons and torrential rains from May to October every year often create flooding disasters, while droughts and water shortages frequently appear in the spring. According to statistics, no more than 15 percent of rainfall in Taiwan can be utilized, while more than 85 percent flows directly into the sea. The serious droughts in 1993 and this year can therefore be said to be both natural as well as human-induced disasters.

Apart from destroying the ability of forests to replenish water resources, inappropriate mountain and forest development also causes landslides and serious silt build-up in reservoirs, shortening reservoir service life and complicating water-resource management and security. According to estimates by water conservation agencies, Taiwan loses reservoir capacity equivalent to the volume of the Mingteh Reservoir to silt build-up every year. If the problem with silt build-up is not solved, and if authorities plan to solve the water problem by building new reservoirs, the construction of one new reservoir per year will still not be sufficient to solve the water shortage. What's more, the building of new reservoirs will run into substantial environmental and ecological preservation problems..

There are also reports saying that documents from the Ministry of Economic Affairs show that since water fees have long failed to reflect real costs, the Taiwan Water Supply Corp (台灣省自來水公司) now lacks the financial resources to replace old pipelines. The water leakage ratio (the volume of water leaked in a given year as a proportion of that year's total water distribution) is as high as 24.6 percent, or about 3.5 times higher than that of Japan. With 93.1 percent of the 3.1 billion tonnes of annual household water usage and 21 percent of the 1.7 billion tonnes of annual industrial water usage being supplied by running water facilities, this means that about 800 million metric tonnes of water is lost to leakage each year. This is equivalent to two Feitsui Reservoirs annually, a startling figure.

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