By Aug. 31 next year, Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) must complete and try out its alternative water source project for its Mailiao Township naphtha cracker, the Environmental Protection Administration’s environmental impact assessment committee decided yesterday.
The project aims to recycle 100,000 tonnes of agricultural tailwater from Sinhuwei River (新虎尾溪) for operations at the cracker.
Residents from Yunlin County’s Taisi Township (台西) protested against the project during the meeting, saying the plan would rob them of water needed to irrigate farmland along both sides of the river.
FPG representatives said that the the water-diversion channels the company set up at Taiwan Yunlin Irrigation Association’s Nanzih Work Station and the Tianwei outflow would only use tailwater — runoff water remaining after irrigation.
However, the committee questioned that claim, because the channels are located upstream of the farms. That means the river water would be tapped before it runs through irrigation areas.
The water that the company proposes to exploit cannot be defined as tailwater, it said.
Residents also raised doubts about statistics provided by FPG showing that the average daily water flow during the low-flow period from February to May last year amounted to 349,700 tonnes.
Citing statistics presented during an environmental impact assessment committee meeting in February last year, which indicated a daily water flow of 23,000 tonnes that month, they said that even during the high-flow period, they are forced to obtain groundwater — sometimes illegally — to maintain their crops.
They said that FPG’s figures are flawed, being produced by estimates based on outdated data gathered between 2008 and 2011, rather than by actual measurements.
The committee concluded that FPG must start operating its tailwater recycling facilities no later than Aug. 31 next year, in accordance with the third analysis report on the difference of the environmental impact it submitted for the complex’s fourth-phase expansion.
If the company fails to meet the time frame it proposed, it is to pay a penalty and work out rainwater recycling plans or build a desalination plant to obtain an alternative water source, the committee resolved.
Committee member Liu Yi-chang (劉益昌) also raised the issue that channels proposed for the tailwater recycling project are to run through and damage relics at the Maoergan (貓兒干) archaeological site.
Citing the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act (文化資產保存法), he said that the project cannot be commenced until the authorities survey the area and all artifacts are excavated under the oversight of designated archaeologists.
FPG Environment Safety and Health Department associate general manager Wu Tsung-ching (吳宗進) protested against the committee’s conclusions, calling them “unacceptable.”
He said the company has been in talks with the authorities to secure a plot of state-owned land required for the project and that it hopes to postpone the time of completion until at least August 2016.
He added that FPG has initiated preliminary desalination tests, but due to the heavy sedimentation of the water near the plant and the high energy consumption the process requires, the tests did not produce satisfying results.
Another FPG delegate also cited difficulties with rainwater recycling, saying that precipitation is too haphazard and insufficient to be used as an alternative water source.