Taiwan is implementing measures to cope with water shortages following a particularly dry year last year, the Water Resources Agency (WRA) said, while experts urged better long-term planning.
Last year was the first year since 1964 that Taiwan was not hit by a typhoon, Water Resources Agency (WRA) Deputy Director-General Wang Yi-feng (王藝峰) said.
In the drainage basins of Feitsui Reservoir (翡翠水庫) in New Taipei City and Shihmen Reservoir (石門水庫) in Taoyuan, there was only 661mm of rainfall from June to November, an all-time low, compared with average rainfall of 1,635mm over the period, WRA data showed.
During the fall, water levels in the reservoirs fell to 48 percent and 43 percent respectively, the agency said.
In response to water shortages, the government introduced a raft of measures, including reducing water supply for agricultural irrigation in some areas.
An additional NT$1.4 billion (US$49.1 million) has been budgeted by the Executive Yuan to improve water storage, distribution and management, which is expected to increase supplies by about 860,000 tonnes.
The measures, likely to be in place by February, also include improvements to wastewater management and desalination of seawater, Wang said.
About 470,000 tonnes of wastewater is handled by 65 facilities across the nation each day, to be used for irrigation, and industrial and other uses, Wang said.
Meanwhile, a seawater desalination plant under construction in Hsinchu is expected to provide about 14,000 tonnes of water every day, the amount needed for about 50,000 people, Wang said.
Water shortages could become a more frequent occurrence in Taiwan due to climate change, he added.
As rainfall is distributed unevenly in Taiwan, in terms of area and season, water collection and storage are challenging for the authorities, Wang said.
“Water resource management is as challenging in Taiwan as it is in countries in the Sahara,” Wang said, adding that the per capita precipitation in Taiwan is 20 percent lower than the global average.
In response to Wang’s remarks, experts urged the government to focus on long-term plans to deal with the situation.
Wang Chung-ho (汪中和), an Earth science researcher at Academia Sinica, said that water conservation is easier and more important than the establishment of more water storage facilities.
If 60 percent of Taiwan’s industrial wastewater was recycled, it would be equivalent to the annual supply from Tsengwen Reservoir (曾文水庫) in Chiayi County, the largest reservoir in Taiwan, Wang Chung-ho said.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (台積電) recycles 90 percent of its industrial wastewater, he said, urging other companies to follow that example.
Former minister of the interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) agrees with Wang Chung-ho, saying that Taiwan cannot afford to build more reservoirs and should instead focus on water recycling.
Wastewater recycling rates in Taiwan are too low, at between one-sixth and one-fourth of the global average, Lee said.
Wang Chung-ho said that soil and water conservation practices, especially in the Central Mountain Range, should be prioritized over economic development.
“If a person is not healthy, they cannot develop well,” he said, adding that the same principle applies to a nation’s natural environment.
Water resource management should be improved, Wang Chung-ho said, adding that water could be redirected from reservoirs in northern Taiwan to areas that are more prone to water shortages.
In response, Wang Yi-feng said that such efforts are made, but only on a small scale.
WRA data showed that about 640 million tonnes of water were last year reallocated, a record high.
Transporting water over long distance is technically possible, but costly in mountainous areas, Wang Yi-feng said.
However, as water shortages might occur more frequently, such methods would be considered, Wang Yi-feng added.
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