Tue, May 03, 2011 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Multiple challenges face land subsidence problem

New Public Construction Commission (PCC) Minister Lee Hong-yuan recently sat down with ‘Taipei Times’ staff reporter Tzou Jiing-wen to share his views on the issue of land subsidence facing Taiwan High Speed Rail in areas around Changhua, Yunlin and Chiayi. The only way to resolve the problem is to change the water intake structure, he said, adding there was a need for inter-agency dialogue

The initial flood detention pond-constructed wetland I had in mind was 50km2, nearly one-fifth the size of Taipei City, and fully planted with aquatic plants. It could solve the flooding problem and become the most beautiful place in Taiwan, as it would attract many wild birds from Southeast Asia. We could instruct the local fishermen to develop tourism, so that their housing prices wouldn’t drop to nothing.

With the aquatic plants in 50km2 of flood detention pond-constructed wetland, it would be enough to treat most of the household wastewater in Changhua, Yunlin and Chiayi.

The plan was introduced three years ago and the Council for Economic Planning and Development has made efforts to push it. But why has progress been so slow? Because there are five ministries and agencies concerned with the issue and their policies may conflict with each other. For example, the Council of Agriculture [COA] continues to promote fish farming, while the Ministry of the Interior works on urban planning. The WRA is in charge of reservoirs and pumping stations, while wetlands are under the the Construction and Planning Administration’s [CPA] management, all while the wetlands are also used for flood prevention. So it’s hard for the agencies to negotiate a unified procedure. This tells us that the operational mode of the government should change.

The Executive Yuan has [recently] placed the responsibility for solving the high-speed rail problem on me. This is a big challenge. In the case of Chiayi, it took two years for us to finish the draft guidelines and even now we still have to communicate with the fishermen. There is even a bigger problem of who will plan the budget. Therefore, the responsibility of the PCC is to plan the budget of each agency and also execute it as a whole. How to make the contracts, how to monitor them, how to validate and accept them, are all challenging the government’s existing regulations. In fact, we should break through the existing regulations, because they have tied down all our imagination. So if you ask me how to solve the high-speed rail problem, I would say: It’s easy, but the hard part is to break through the problems I mentioned above.

TT: How do you plan to proceed [to tackle the issue]?

Lee: We must first sketch out a plan. Who will execute the plan? What is the time limit? If land subsidence continues to worsen, I don’t think the high-speed rail can continue another two years. I must draft a plan in the shortest time possible and in the meantime, communicate with farmers, fishermen and local governments. Communication with environmental protection groups is also needed. They are passionate and reasonable, yet they are difficult to deal with if you fail to communicate clearly with them.

Therefore, I have asked my colleagues to advance the research on the local water usage structure. How much water is being used for agriculture, industries, tap water and household use? How much water resources do we have? And if part of the water provided by the Jiji Weir (集集攔河堰) is used by Formosa Petrochemical Corp’s sixth naphtha cracker in Mailiao (麥寮), [Yunlin County,] and another part used by the [Chia-Nan] Irrigation Association, will the association be able to change its way of irrigation? It is currently under extensive management, but a part of the water for the plant can actually be saved for tap water at night, thus allowing it to be provided by reliable surface water instead of groundwater extraction. This is a way to save water. Now when we talk about water conservation, we mostly refer to insignificant methods such as using water-saving disks or washing machines. But how much water can we save from them? At the same time, all we do now is persuade people to save water through moral appeals, but the government should set up regulations. It may be an inconvenience to the residents in the short term, but new values, industries and job opportunities focused on water conservation will appear in the long run.

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