Because of the current drought in Taitung County, several of the county's larger rivers are running dry. Larger fish like the Taiwan freshwater trout and the Taiwan ku fish are being caught and smaller fish are drying out and dying.
People are also going through difficult times because of the water shortage. Ceremonies to pray for rain have been carried out in Chihshang (池上), Kuanshan (關山) and Luye (鹿野) townships.
The Sanchan River in Hsiulin Township (秀林) is regarded as a target for ecological conservation. But in the middle of May this year -- when the dry season began -- the irrigation association closed the river's locks because it gives priority to irrigation. This destroyed the results of five years of closing the river off from fishing. If there were water reservoirs upstream on the Sanchan River and the Hsinwulu River, some water could be releaseds to sustain the ecological system, and it would not be so devastating for the ecology in these areas. Of course, first research needs to be carried out to assess if the upstream areas of those rivers are suitable for such water reservoirs.
In the last few years, it has become extremely difficult to develop more water resources because of environmental issues. Environmental impact assessment committee members have even ordered that the construction of the Hushan Water Reservoir be halted because they didn't accept the environmental research reports. Reservoirs have already been labeled as enemies of environmental protection. It is not only impossible to build new reservoirs, there are also people who even want to have existing dams destroyed and removed.
But in fact water reservoirs are the lifeline of Taiwan. When the water in the Shihmen Reservoir becomes muddy because of a typhoon, Taoyuan suffers a serious water shortage. The Kao-Ping Weir supplies the greater Kaohsiung area with 1 million tonnes of water a day, something that can't be stopped for even one day. In all of Taiwan, reservoirs supply the public with four billion tonnes of water per year. If it wasn't for the flood water stored in reservoirs to relieve droughts, the country would soon come to a standstill. But it is hard to make the public understand and be aware of this. The report presented to the UN by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- a group consisting of more than 1,000 scientists -- says that because of global warming, by 2050, 1 billion Asians will suffer from a shortage of water. How can this not influence Taiwan?
Many people may not know that the US -- which places high importance on environmental protection -- has more than 82,700 water reservoirs, with up to 1291m3 of water from these reservoirs allotted to each person. In Taiwan, this figure is only 4.5m3 per person.
Faced with climate change, droughts in the future might be even more extreme. If we don't have more capacity for water storage, if our methods of protecting human ecology are similar to what was done on the Sanchan and Hsinwulu rivers, doesn't that show our weakness and how we can't bear to live with nature?
Of course it's possible to do without water reservoirs. Other reliable ways of collecting water are the desalination of seawater and the recycling of used water. The Water Resources Agency is currently promoting diversification of water resources. However, the sun is the best source of energy in the natural water cycle. Water evaporates from the sea, clouds form and it starts to rain, providing clean water. The water collected from rivers is transported to treatment plants, where -- after a simple treatment -- it's ready for use. Taiwan has plenty of precipitation. If we can just protect the ecology, this is a relatively ideal utilization of water resources, with the exception of a few areas -- like Taoyuan and science parks. Why try to imitate others that we can never match? Why use methods that are made for areas that lack rain?
Apart from that, using artificial lakes as reservoirs, or using wetlands to improve the quality of used water in order to recycle it, are all good methods, but they still require the use of land resources.
That means that we have to sacrifice something else in order to obtain water, be it the ecology of rivers, energy or land. If we develop water resources, in the end it will always influence the environment and people's wallets.
Now that there is a drought in Taitung, I urge everyone to give some thought to the issue of the future development of Taiwan's water resources.
Chang Yen-ming is a deputy director of the Water Resources Agency.
Translated by Anna Stiggelbout
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