Sun, Apr 26, 2015 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Increased water bills not the answer

Faced with the most serious water shortage in decades, there has been a lot of talk about different measures to improve water conservation. However, perhaps rethinking industrial policies is the best solution.

Due to the exceptionally low volume of rainfall since last year, the government has been announcing new water rationing measures every few weeks, while officials, media outlets, as well as some academics have said that maybe it is time to raise water prices.

The logic behind the price hike proposal is that people do not care much about saving water because it is too cheap. Therefore, if prices were increased, people would feel the need to conserve water to save money.

Is that so? Perhaps not.

First, Taiwanese are not necessarily water wasters, according to official government figures. The daily average amount of water used by each person in Taiwan is about 238 liters, which is much lower than the 575 liters used in the US, 493 liters in Australia, 386 liters in Italy, 376 liters in Japan. Water use by Taiwanese is also lower than in Mexico, Spain, Norway, France and Austria’s 250 liters.

So if the problem is not with the residential use of water, what about industrial and agricultural uses?

According to official figures, Formosa Petrochemical Co’s plant in Mailiao Township (麥寮), Yunlin County, uses 290,000 tonnes of water per day. However, the daily residential use is only a little more than 270,000 tonnes.

A dam was built upstream in the Jhuoshui River (濁水溪), which divides Changhua and Yunlin counties, to supply 120,000 tonnes of water a day directly to the plant in Mailiao, leaving only a little for irrigation in the two counties, which are some of the most important agricultural regions in the nation.

In southern Changhua County, water from the Jhuoshui River — used for irrigation purposes — is only supplied on four out of every six days.

As for agricultural use, it might seem that the percentage is higher — for example, 82 percent in Yunlin County — but the water used for farming does not disappear. Almost 50 percent of the water used for irrigation seeps into the ground and can be used again through wells.

To resolve the water shortage issue, the government must readjust its industrial policies and refrain from promoting the development of high water-consuming industries, including the petrochemical and information technology industries.

This is not to say that the nation should not have such industries, or should get rid of existing plants, but the government should stop allowing more plants that consume high levels of water to be built so that the problem does not worsen.

It would be nice if individuals and families could save more water, but more water could be saved if high water-consuming industries could be restrained, given Taiwan is a resource-scarce nation.

Raising water prices is definitely not the solution, as it would increase the financial burden on many people who are already suffering from economic disadvantages.

Moreover, if water prices were increased, more people might resort to building wells, which would exacerbate the problem of land subsidence.

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