Representatives from more than 30 civic groups protested in front of the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) yesterday, urging the agency not to ease regulations on development in water catchment areas.
“Protect water resources. Development of water catchment areas has to go through an environmental impact assessment,” the protesters chanted.
The EPA has proposed amending the standards for determining the scope of environmental impact assessments (EIA) for development activities, which will reclassify water catchment areas into two types. Development projects for type one would still have to go through an EIA, but regulations on development of type two areas would be loosened and might not even need an EIA for approval.
Current regulations require that all development projects in the water catchment areas of 96 reservoirs across the nation have to go through an EIA before construction, but if the EPA’s proposal is passed, only developments at 25 reservoirs listed as type one would be required to gain EIA approval.
The protesters said such a regulatory change would mean engineering and construction projects that could pose an environmental risk to these areas — measuring thousands of square kilometers — would not be protected by an EIA, and water quality was likely to worsen.
The EPA should know that river pollution is getting worse, and so the regulation should not be amended, Taiwan Water Conservation Alliance spokesperson Chen Jiau-hua (陳椒華) said, adding that there have been many improper developments in water catchment areas in Greater Kaohsiung, such as the illegal construction of several overpasses at E-Da World (義大世界) theme park.
“If the regulations are eased, the illegal structures at E-Da would become legal,” she said.
Chen also questioned whether the changes proposed by the EPA were a result of pressure from “above.”
The alliance’s managing supervisor, Wu Li-hui (吳麗慧), said survey reports by the Control Yuan in February indicated that the quality of water in the Gaoping River (高屏溪) — the main source of drinking water for Greater Kaohsiung — has worsened because of wastewater emissions from E-Da.
Aside from Gaoping River, the water quality in rivers and reservoirs across the nation has deteriorated, Green Formosa Front standing director Lin Chang-mao (林長茂) said.
“If these [development projects] no longer need an EIA for approval ... the reservoirs in Taiwan will be highly at risk, and [the nation] may have to face the consequences of a water shortage or unusable water,” Lin said.
Tainan Water Conservation Alliance chairperson Huang An-tiao (黃安調) questioned the practice of allocating management of water resources across the country to different government agencies, which he said has led to ineffective governance.
Taking the Wushantou Reservoir (烏山頭水庫) as an example, he said it is under the management of the Forestry Bureau and the National Property Administration. National lands have become private orchards, with pesticides and fertilizers being sprayed many times a year, causing hazardous substances to leak into the reservoir, he said.
Taiwan Academy of Ecology consultant Chang Feng-nian (張豐年) suggested the EPA should not amend regulations to accede to the development plans of local governments. It should instead wait until new national land planning is completed and related regulations are drawn up.