More than 600 farmers and farming activists yesterday demonstrated outside the Executive Yuan in Taipei, calling for a halt to an irrigation project for the Central Taiwan Science Park’s (CTSP) Erlin campus.
The farmers, who came from Changhua County’s Sijhou (溪州), Pitou (埤頭), Jhutang (竹塘), Tianjhong (田中) and Beidou (北斗) townships, held aloft signs, banners, balloons and farm produce as they accused the government of trying to destroy farming, the major means of livelihood for the tens of thousands of households in the area.
To provide water for the use of the Erlin Campus, the Changhua County Irrigation Association has agreed to allow the science park to take a maximum of 33,000 tonnes of water per day — for NT$3 per tonne — from Cizaipijun (莿仔埤圳), the major irrigation channel for southern Changhua County.
Area farmers fear the move would reduce the amount of water available to them for irrigation.
“We have already been hurting for water since the Jiji Dam (集集攔河堰) was built more than a decade ago — water only comes through Cizaipijun four days out of 10,” Hsieh Pao-yuan (謝寶元), a Sijhou farmer and the president of the Alliance against CTSP’s Seizure of Water, told the crowd.
“The irrigation channel supplies water for 18,000 hectares of farmland, which 30,000 households depend on,” Hsieh said.
“How are these families going to survive if farming has to be suspended due to lack of water? Can the science park provide enough job openings for all these people?” he asked.
The Jiji Dam on the Jhuoshuei River (濁水溪) deviates water from the upper stretch of the river and sends tens of thousands of tonnes of water to the Formosa Plastics oil refineries in Mailiao Township (麥寮), Yunlin County. This has limited the water available downstream for farmers to use.
Thomas Chan (詹順貴), a lawyer and long-time farming activist, said the irrigation project not only poses a serious threat to farming activities in southern Changhua County, but it is illegal — along with the construction work that began earlier this year.
Although the Environmental Protection Administration says the scale of the construction does not require an environmental impact assessment (EIA), this is not true, he said.
“The laws on EIAs stipulate that an EIA is required if a construction would take more than 2 cubic meters of water per second. However, according to the Changua County Irrigation Association’s own official figures, the CTSP would be taking 3.078 cubic meters of water per second from the irrigation system,” Chan said. “Moreover, an EIA is required when a construction site is larger than 10 hectares and a 13 hectare sand settling pond is planned for the project.”
The government should not turn a blind eye to the facts and should intervene immediately, Chan said.
Meanwhile, National Chengchi Unversity’s Department of Land Economics chairman Hsu Shih-jung (徐世榮) said the government was “shameful” and “makes farmers take to the streets for their own survival.”
“I don’t know whether it is worth celebrating for the Republic of China’s centennial, since this government is not treating the people right,” he said.
Executive Yuan official Liu Yi-chuan (劉益權), who came out to take the petition from the demonstrators, said the government would take the farmers’ opinions into consideration when making a decision on the project.
Minor scuffles broke out when Liu rushed back to the Executive Yuan, refusing to answer a question from farmers on whether the government plans to halt the construction now underway.
Protesters said they were not happy with the government’s response and vowed to take further action until the project is stopped.