Taiwan's first community-based watershed protection initiative, Tamsui River Watch Alliance (淡水河守護聯盟), established by communities along the river and civil groups, has gained government support for the promotion of water-related issues in communities.
The alliance was formed last October by 17 community colleges, located in the watershed of the Tamsui River, and non-governmental groups to unite enthusiastic volunteer "guardians of the river."
According to Chen Chien-chih (陳建志), secretary-general of the Green Citizens' Action Alliance, which is in charge of coordination between members of the alliance, more than 300 environmentalists and residents have been involved in river protection issues.
With the support of the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the National Science Council, the alliance yesterday launched a series of activities involving the inspection of several sections of the river.
Yesterday morning, activists inspected several section of the river at Keelung to not only check its healthiness but also explore its history. They also visited a section in Nuanjiang, where geologically unique potholes (壺穴) are to be found, as well as Hsishih Reservoir (西勢水庫), one of the oldest reservoirs in Taiwan.
"Taking a field trip is always the first step to making people think about water-related issues," Chen told the Taipei Times.
EPA officials said that the Tamsui River is vital to the Taipei Basin because its abundant water resources nourish the city. However, inevitable industrialization and soaring population numbers have led to river pollution for decades. Since 1987, the EPA has launched a series of treatment projects, which have increased water quality in the river. But officials said the water quality in several sections of the river is still jeopardized by unidentified sources of sewage and industrial waste water.
At a conference on water-related issues held yesterday at Keelung Community College, community-based education programs were carried out for participants to share experiences of patrolling the river and learning about riverine ecological systems. A number of high-ranking officials participated, including Vice Minister of Education Fang Shiun-lui (范巽綠).
According to Chen, some teaching materials used in community colleges relating to key water issues such as treatment and protection had even been passed on to schools at elementary and secondary levels.
"People's access to the river remains limited because of the lack of riverside parks. The water quality remains unpleasant. If residents in communities consider such issues more, their suggestions will become one of driving forces for the establishment of better regulations and policies," Chen said.
Chen said in the 21st century, residents' speaking up for the environment is not as controversial as it was in the martial law era in the 1970s and 80s.
"We design and offer educational, creative and fun programs for residents to get involved in first. Then partnership between the public sector and civil society will be established for jointly bettering our future," Chen said.
EPA officials said that financial support for such programs would remain available because illegal dumping cases were reported on and off and volunteer inspectors for river protection were desperately needed.