To encourage more economical use of water and improve efficiency, the Ministry of Economic Affairs plans to increase the price of water by between 10 and 30 percent by 2017 at the earliest where usage exceeds 1,000 cubic meters per month. The ministry is also to introduce complementary measures by which users whose water savings meet certain requirements would be eligible for fee reductions of up to 60 percent. The Water Resources Agency’s move to adjust usage by tinkering with the price of water might be late in coming, but better late than never.
Because central and southern Taiwan have gone a long time without rain, water shortages are creeping further north. The government is encouraging farmers to let their fields lie fallow from the southern and central region into northern Taiwan south of Greater Taoyuan. Irrigation is to be prohibited for more than 41,000 hectares during the first stage, the second-largest area ever to be left fallow.
Taiwan receives abundant annual rains, but it still suffers frequent droughts. The Central Mountain Range quickly transports rainwater to the sea, making it difficult to collect, and rivers that are normally dry are easily flooded, frequently leading to disasters. With heavy rain causing floods and rain shortages leading to droughts, water management is an important issue in Taiwan.
To improve the standard of living and promote industrial development, the government has always suppressed water prices. While this might help in daily life, it is misleading and leads the public, farmers and industry to waste water, which distorts water distribution.
The government’s announcement that water for agricultural use is to be restricted has set off a debate between the agricultural and industrial sectors as both sectors try to get access to more water. The ministry has long had a standard operating procedure for dealing with water shortages. Article 18 of the Water Act (水利法) clearly ranks water usage priorities, allocating priority of supply to domestic and public use, ahead of agricultural use, hydro-power and industrial demand.
The Council of Agriculture has a set procedure to restrict water for agricultural use, but many farmers have protested and asked why water for agricultural use is restricted ahead of water for industrial use, saying that the government prioritizes industry over agriculture and arguing that the priorities should be reversed. They have said that it is not at all certain that the agricultural sector uses more water than the industrial sector, agriculture creates less pollution and recycling efficiency is better in the agricultural sector. The reason for the conflict is the absence of a standard to assess the use of water resources, and introducing an efficient price mechanism would help settle the debate.
The current restrictions on water use are just the first measures to be implemented this year to manage water resources. If there is not enough rain, the next stage of water restrictions would be implemented following the Lunar New Year holiday. If that happened, everyone would begin to feel the water shortage. The government must prepare for water restrictions following a lack of rain and instruct the public to cultivate the habit of saving water to reduce the impact on daily life.
Extremes of drought and flooding are expected to become increasingly common. As Taiwan attempts to deal with this situation and manage water resources, more comprehensive planning is required.
These plans must be reviewed and updated annually, and a pricing mechanism must be used to direct the public as well as the agricultural and industrial sectors toward saving water so that water resource management becomes more realistic, reasonable and suited to the public’s needs.
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