Wed, Mar 29, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Sharing the costs of water resources

By Chang Yen-ming 張炎銘

Wednesday last week was World Water Day, and the Cabinet on Thursday announced its “Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program.” One of the items in the plan that has attracted a lot attention is investment in aquatic environment construction, at a cost of more than NT$250 billion (US$8.29 billion).

Water is the source of life and the foundation of development. China’s plan to build a dam across the Yarlung Tsangpo River, which is the upper stream of the Brahmaputra River, has provoked India, which has said it would be willing to wage war over the issue.

Taoyuan Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan (鄭文燦) recently said that the Shihmen Reservoir (石門水庫) should supply Taoyuan exclusively, while Miaoli County Council members called for the Liyutan Reservoir (鯉魚潭水庫) to exclusively supply Miaoli.

It seems as if the world is facing a new wave of disputes over water resources. When there is a water shortage, local government leaders or elected representatives inevitably demand water usage priority based on their own viewpoints and interests.

Farmers in Changhua and Yunlin counties once fought for water from the Jhuoshuei River (濁水溪), a dispute that led to armed confrontation, until a water distribution team was set up to resolve the dispute. The completion of the Jiji Weir (集集攔河堰) then improved water transportation and usage efficiency, which put an end to the conflict.

According to the law, water resources are a national resource and water allocation is an absolute necessity. Reservoirs are not like incinerators that can be built in every county, as they can only be built in locations with the appropriate geological, topographical, hydrological and land usage conditions. Moreover, it is normal in Taiwan for water reservoirs to be used to assist other areas.

For example, New Taipei City’s Feitsui Reservoir (翡翠水庫) supplies Taipei and supports Taoyuan; Tainan’s Nanhua Reservoir (南化水庫) supplies Kaohsiung; and reservoirs in Miaoli County supply Hsinchu in the north and Taichung in the south.

Furthermore, in most cases, the central government paid for the reservoirs’ construction without any contributions from local governments, although they demand water usage priority when there is a shortage in the water supply. This is not reasonable.

A closer look at the aquatic environment program shows that there are a number of other water resource development projects, such as the Tianhuahu Reservoir project (天花湖水庫) and the Shuangsi Reservoir (雙溪水庫). There are also construction projects with two or more local governments involved, such as the construction of pipelines connecting the Zengwen (曾文水庫) and Nanhua reservoirs, as well as a project to combine the water resources of the Daan (大安) and Dajia (大甲) rivers.

The costs of these construction projects are so high that the central government has to issue debt. If local governments are so keen to get water usage priority, why not take the initiative and share the construction costs?

The budget for the construction of the Feitsui Reservoir was NT$3.9 billion, subsidized by the central government, with the rest paid by the Taipei City Government, loans, bonds and water charges, resulting in Taipei having a treasury of water without having to worry about water supply.

Any local government with a long-term vision should follow this example and share the costs, so that what it says will carry more weight the next time it wants water allocation priority.

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