Tue, Mar 26, 2013 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Rethinking the nation’s water supply

The nation is parched, reservoir levels are low and a drought looms. It was against this backdrop that Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said he was hoping a typhoon would come along soon to offer some respite. This comment was roundly criticized.

It is only March and the typhoon season is four or five months away. Saying you hope a typhoon will come soon to drown out the drought does not make sense. While it is true that typhoons do bring rain, they cause a lot of damage. In 2009, the Water Resources Agency praised Typhoon Morakot for the much-needed water it brought — the highest amount of rainfall in 50 years — that filled the reservoirs to the brim and ended a drought. However, with such heavy rainfall over such a short period came much destruction and more than 600 lives were lost.

Rainfall during the typhoon season accounts for more than 55 percent of the nation’s annual water supply. They are the main source of water, followed by the East Asian rainy season, or plum rains, in late spring and early summer. It makes more sense, then, to put one’s hope in the plum rains, not some premature typhoon.

Taiwan is surrounded on all sides by water and it rains frequently. The public need to learn how to have a positive relationship with weather fronts and typhoons, and to value the rain they bring.

Although it rains often, the rivers running down from the mountains are relatively short and rapid-flowing because of the steep gradient, and storing the run-off presents a problem. The public is often unaware of the importance of conserving water until a drought hits.

The government should not have to pray for rain. Its job is to review the nation’s water usage strategy and to decide how much water is allocated for industrial use and how much for the general public. Naturally, the priority should go to the latter, but when water resources are low, it is only right that swimming pools and car washes are among the first things to be restricted.

Water-intensive farming also needs to be addressed during times of shortage, by controlling the water supply or even by encouraging a change to drought-resistant crops.

The water allocation policy needs to be rethought for water-intensive industrial processes by, for example, requiring companies to increase their use of untreated water.

If the government is concerned about droughts, it should be looking at the use and reuse of existing water resources, and perhaps also at setting the price of water at levels that will encourage the public to conserve it. If all the sewage treatment plants nationwide were operational and half of the 3.8 million tonnes of water used every day was recycled, we would not need to build another reservoir.

The nation already has many reservoirs. Unfortunately, they are prone to getting clogged up by silt from the deforested mountainous regions, helped along by frequent earthquakes and landslides. This silt not only reduces the capacity and operational lifespan of reservoirs, it is expensive to remove. The government should think about how to maintain upstream regions and protect the environment in those areas, to help keep reservoirs free of silt.

As global climate change exacerbates the cycle of droughts and floods, it is going to take more than simply regulating the supply and allocation of water resources to ensure our water needs are met. The government is going to need to come up with a national land usage and industrial restructuring plan, including land development, allocation and usage, a move away from water-intensive industries and a more efficient supply of water resources.

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