Wed, May 19, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Volunteers called on to check rivers

LOW STANDARDS Facing steadily increasing river pollution, the official environmental watchdog said it would use volunteers to help keep river systems clean


A new strategy involving local authorities, environmental groups and specialists will evaluate the health of major rivers and encourage the public to protect waterways, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) said yesterday.

The new EPA strategy will focus on checking the cleanliness of river water, increasing voluntary inspection of riverbanks, monitoring the adoption of ecologically sound construction work, uncovering pipes that illegally discharge toxic waste and refining collaboration between central government agencies and local authorities.

EPA statistics show that the total length of rivers classified as seriously polluted increased from 14.4 percent in 2002 to 15.8 percent last year.

The most polluted waterways are the Erjen River (二仁溪), which runs mostly through Tainan and Kaohsiung counties, and the Peigang River (北港溪), which straddles Chiayi and Yunlin counties. In terms of the river pollution index, 100 percent of the length of both rivers is seriously polluted.

However, EPA officials said that the poor result could be attributed to the onset of drought last year.

Since 2002, the EPA has placed more emphasis on the prevention of river pollution because the percentage of households using sewerage infrastructure remains very low by the standards of developed countries. Household sewage constitutes almost half of all river pollution, officials said.

As of June 30 last year, Taipei City had connected 63.7 percent of households to the sewerage system, while Kaohsiung City had only connected 27.8 percent. The average figure for sewerage connection in other parts of the country, where development of the agricultural and industrial sectors is focused, is a meager 1.5 percent.

"Under these circumstances, a comprehensive system of random inspections as well as public assistance has become vital to prevent rivers from being polluted any further," Cheng Shean-rong (鄭顯榮), director-general of the EPA's Bureau of Water Quality Protection, said yesterday.

Cheng said that environmental groups and specialists would be invited to join a committee that will evaluate the performance of local government in protecting rivers.

"The checking system will reflect the diversity of rivers in terms of their appearance and purity of water," Cheng said.

The nationwide evaluation of dozens of primary and secondary rivers will be carried out from August to the end of the year. Outstanding counties or townships will receive bonuses of between NT$300,000 and NT$1.5 million.

Meanwhile, an EPA policy banning plastic bags and plastic cutlery at selected outlets was adjusted yesterday. Originally, violators were fined between NT$60,000 and NT$300,000. Under pressure from retailers and inspectors reluctant to issue fines, the Legislative Yuan yesterday amended the law by reducing the fine to between NT$1,200 and NT$1,600.

EPA officials said yesterday that the change would not affect the implementation of the policy.

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