Thu, Mar 19, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Droughts demand complete solution

By Chang Yen-ming 張炎銘

The nation is facing a severe drought. Reduced water pressure at nights to households supplied by the Shihmen (石門) and Yongheshan (永和山) reservoirs have been extended by another two hours, while water supply cuts to large industrial users were raised to 7.5 percent starting on Friday last week, from the original 5 percent. The 7.5 percent reduction is to be applied nationwide to large industrial users beginning on April 1, and is to be increased to 10 percent on May 1. Although these measures are necessary, they do not tackle the root of the problem.

This is the worst drought that the nation has faced over the past decade, but it is not unprecedented. Extended droughts from 2002 to 2004 taught a valuable lesson, prompting authorities to formulate strategies for handling such crises. Will this drought inspire similar action?

The worst drought was in 2002, with annual precipitation of 1,572mm, and was especially severe in the north, with 15,000 hectares of farmland left fallow in the Shihmen and Toucian River (頭前溪) irrigation regions and 25,000 hectares in the Taoyuan area. With the Shihmen Reservoir’s capacity falling to a record-low 2.07 percent, authorities on May 13 that year implemented Phase Three rationing — with water available for just five-and-a-half days a week.

On July 1 of the same year, the Feitsui Reservoir (翡翠水庫) hit a record low capacity of 7.08 percent.

Because of the drought, the Ministry of Economic Affairs promoted the construction of the Second Baoshan Reservoir (寶二水庫) to stabilize water supply for the Hsinchu Science Park, which has had an extensive influence on economic development.

The fourth-worst drought was in 2003, with 1,689mm of annual precipitation. The ministry established a drought emergency response team on March 1 of that year and did not disband it in until July, when Typhoon Mindulle hit the nation.

In 2003, 27,646 hectares of land were left fallow, and in 2004, the government spent a record NT$2.6 billion (US$82.42 million at current exchange rates) to compensate farmers for 65,385 hectares of idle land. Water from Taiwan was transported to Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, and was even bought and shipped from China.

The drought prompted the then-National Science Council to launch crisis mitigation programs, develop precipitation forecast models, set up a drought index to improve its warning capability, hasten construction of desalination plants on islands and start a water import program from China to Kinmen.

In 2006, the drought was concentrated in Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli counties, and NT$1.38 billion was spent on compensation for 30,828 hectares of fallow land. The Shihmen Reservoir Water Supply Volume Index Response Team was established to set up an emergency response and alert mechanism.

Signs of a coming drought in 2010 started appearing in October 2009, two months after Typhoon Morakot.

On Dec. 19 of that year, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) convened the first National Security Meeting to focus on conserving water and fighting drought, instructing the nation to prepare for a potentially severe drought following the typhoon floods. However, the outcome once again was state compensation: NT$1.44 billion for 22,366 hectares of land left fallow.

Judging from experience, apart from measures such as water resource management and conservation, artificial rainfall and building wells, the ultimate solution is to suspend farming. In recent years, large infrastructure development has been abandoned, with greater attention being focused improving management.

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