In response to the serious drought in the country, some academics have once again proposed that more reservoirs be built. The Water Resources Agency is already busy doing this across the country.
The controversial Hushan Reservoir (湖山水庫) in Yunlin County is under construction. Although its budget has been repeatedly blocked by the legislature, the Jiyang Lake (吉洋人工湖) project between Greater Kaohsiung and Pingtung County is about to begin. The agency is also planning to build the Bilin Reservoir (比麟水庫) in Hsinchu County and Pingsi Reservoir (平溪水庫) in Keelung, as well as re-evaluate the Meinong Reservoir (美濃水庫) project, which has been suspended.
Since it takes 10 to 20 years and billions of NT dollars to plan and build a new reservoir, is this really the most effective solution to an extreme climate?
First, take Greater Kaohsiung for example: If the water leakage rate could be reduced by 10 percent, water supply could be increased by more than 150,000 tonnes a day.
Second, in the Greater Kaohsiung Cijin District (旗津區), the Jhongjhou Wastewater Treatment Plant drains 800,000 to 900,000 tonnes of domestic sewage into the sea every day. If it could be upgraded to a third-level wastewater treatment plant, it could provide 300,000 tonnes of water for industrial use every day.
Third, Donggang Creek (東港溪) on the west side of North Dawu Mountain (北大武山) is a great water resource. The Greater Kaohsiung branch of Taiwan Water Corp takes 300,000 tonnes of water from the creek daily for industrial use in the city.
However, the creek has the potential for a daily supply of 480,000 tonnes during dry season and 980,000 tonnes during wet season. If the municipality could improve its livestock and sewage management and water quality to the level required for domestic use, it could utilize the Gangsi Pumping Station to deliver water to Greater Kaohsiung’s Fongshan Reservoir (鳳山水庫).
This would increase the water supply in Greater Kaohsiung by 180,000 to 680,000 tonnes a day. At the same time, it would help revive the natural ecology along the creek and residents on both sides would enjoy a clean environment for recreational water activities. This is a win-win situation that would benefit both urban and rural areas.
Through the three plans proposed above — water leakage reduction, reusing domestic sewage for industrial use and improving the quality of water in Donggang Creek — the daily water supply in Greater Kaohsiung and Pingtung County could increase by 600,000 to 1 million tonnes.
In recent years, the Taipei Water Department has spent NT$5.5 billion (US$190 million) to reduce the water leakage rate by 4.17 percent, saving 230 million tonnes of water in total or 158,000 tonnes a day. This proves that leakage reduction is a better option than building reservoirs or manmade lakes.
In comparison, the first-stage construction project of the Jiyang Lake project will cost NT$16.1 billion, but it will only supply 140,000 tonnes of water a day after completion. This is one of the stupidest projects in history.
Indeed, the issue of water resources should be elevated to the national security level. However, more importantly, policymakers must change their thinking and switch the direction of the nation’s investments.
If the government still thinks it should build more reservoirs to deal with water shortages, it will only benefit those who stand to profit from reservoir development, while delaying the nation’s opportunity for prompt responses to an extreme climate.
Lee Ken-cheng is director of Mercy on the Earth, Taiwan.
TRANSLATED BY EDDY CHANG