Fri, Dec 28, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Price hikes are not the only way to save water

By Chang Yen-ming 張炎銘

Taiwan Water Corp (Taiwater, 台灣自來水) chairman Kuo Chun-ming (郭俊銘) on Friday last week said that the company is adjusting water prices next year. With prices increases of about 25 percent, households are likely to pay about NT$70 (US$2.27) more on average per month.

I personally agree with a water price hike to control water use, but from a consumer perspective, the price of water must be based on water consumption and the necessity of a price hike.

It is the government’s responsibility to provide sufficient hygienic water. Monthly consumption below a certain level should be kept very inexpensive and prices could remain unchanged.

The government spares no effort in pushing for water conservation. In the past, people buying water-saving household products received an NT$2,000 subsidy, and beginning in April, only washing machines and toilet units with a Water Efficiency Label can be sold according to the Water Supply Act (自來水法), with transgressors to be fined between NT$40,000 and NT$200,000.

However, real household water consumption still increased from 268 liters per person per day in 2012 to 278 liters last year.

Taiwanese summers are scorching hot, and people shower and wash their hands more frequently, which is essential to prevent enterovirus infections and influenza, both of which peak during summer.

As living standards improve, many households have also installed dishwashers, reverse osmosis devices and other appliances, which all increase water usage. Price hikes might help improve Taiwater’s finances, but are likely to have a limited effect on water conservation.

The public often mistakenly thinks that industry is the largest consumer of water, but industrial water usage only accounts for 10 percent of total consumption.

On March 1, 2016, the Taipei Water Department increased water prices by an average of 28 percent, while consumers using more than 1,000m3 per month faced an increase of 132 percent. However, the hike did not have much effect.

In addition to improving water resource management, redesignating water right registration exemptions, and creating a legal basis for reviewing and regulating water usage plans, the main focus of the 2016 Water Act (水利法) was the water conservation charge.

Industrial users, whose water consumption exceeds 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000m3 would to have to pay an extra 10 to 30 percent. The amendment also set forth a water-saving encouragement mechanism allowing exemptions of up to 60 percent.

However, two years in, the water conservation charge has not been implemented.

It is both reasonable and necessary to charge large industrial users more to remind them of the importance of water conservation. Instead of increasing water prices across the board, it would be better to implement the water conservation charge, which would encourage industrial users to reduce water consumption as it is accompanied by a water conservation bonus.

Widening the water price consumption brackets would be better and face less opposition compared with increasing the overall price.

In terms of efficiency of water use, there are no regulations setting a price on agricultural water use, which accounts for about 70 percent of Taiwan’s water consumption. Some farmers even intentionally waste water to keep their water use high when applying for a water rights extension.

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