Wed, Aug 12, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Why water supply is so troublesome in Taiwan

By Jeff Chen 陳昌宏

Taiwan has long been plagued by droughts and floods on an almost annual basis.

There has been no obvious change in Taiwan’s average annual rainfall over the past few years. Even for 2002, when Taiwan suffered a serious drought, the average annual rainfall for the year was not substantially lower than that of previous years.

With an island climate and not a dry, continental one, Taiwan’s average rainfall is about 2.6 times the global average. The question therefore is why Taiwan is so bad at conserving water?

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the Water Resources Agency have suggested that residents use no more than 250 liters of water per day.

Water can be categorized into three classes, according to the level of water quality that is needed.

The first class is drinking water. Drinking water usually accounts for only one-fifth of a person’s water use each day. Because we drink it, the quality of this water must be the highest.

Second, there is water used for the maintenance of personal hygiene. This includes the water we use to wash our hands, shower or brush our teeth. This category accounts for two-fifths of personal water use on average and the quality is slightly lower as it not meant for drinking.

Finally, we have water for flushing toilets and cleaning. This type of water accounts for almost half of total personal water use and is regarded as the third tier in terms of quality.

Water from reservoirs is filtered and supplied by water companies to consumers for the first and second categories of water.

Taiwan’s many high-tech companies would risk immeasurable losses if water rationing were implemented. The government should therefore chart out its work from the perspectives of water conservation and water resource redistribution.

The Water Resources Agency should cooperate with the Construction and Planning Agency and demand that building proposals include water collection facilities before they are granted construction licenses.

Such facilities in urban areas could catch rainwater, which could then be used as a source of third-class water.

The government should also provide subsidies to the owners of older buildings to install water collection facilities.

These facilities are often referred to as “rainwater recycling systems” in today’s green buildings.

Test results show that these facilities are very effective at catching rainwater.

If more than half of the buildings in a urban area installed water-catching facilities, each building would have its own “mini dam,” which would have a significant effect on the supply of water for the third category.

Taiwan should not run short of water, and yet this happens almost every year.

The government should not have to rely on water rationing or hope that typhoons and tropical storms will replenish water supplies. As we have seen, typhoons can instead be disastrous.

The government should draw up strategies to ensure sustainable management of the nation’s water resources.

It must learn how to manage rainwater effectively, lest it flow into the sea rather than being collected and used.

If this could be accomplished, water rationing, which causes significant economic losses and inconveniences the public, would no longer be necessary.

Jeff Chen is a doctoral candidate at the Graduate Institute of Political Science at National Taiwan Normal University.

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