According to media reports, parts of Taiwan will face water shortages around the end of the year and people in southern areas are being advised not to go their home towns for Lunar New Year celebrations. But wait — didn’t Typhoon Morakot bring the worst flooding in decades to southern Taiwan just a few months ago? Now climate change is even stopping people from visiting their families at festival time. Being from the south myself, I am rather upset about this.
Because of Taiwan’s unstable environment, it often suffers water shortages despite abundant rainfall. Unfortunately, the country’s industrial development has followed a path of high water and energy use. The Hsinchu Science Park is a good example. Manufacturing has flourished here, bringing a wave of prosperity over the past couple of decades. The downside is that the area’s key semiconductor and optoelectronic panel factories have used up a great deal of Taiwan’s resources — especially water resources. The Water Resources Agency (WRA) is reportedly planning to construct a reservoir in Bilin Valley in Hsinchu County’s Jianshih Township (尖石) aimed at ensuring adequate water supplies for people living and working in Hsinchu for the next 120 years.
But everyone in Hsinchu knows that once the rain stops the water quickly drains away. In order to supply the proposed Bilin reservoir with enough water, the WRA proposes digging a tunnel to bring it underground from the Dahan River on the other side of Jianshih Mountain. Chiayi County’s Zengwun Reservoir is also fed by cross-watershed transfer, but it has had a big impact on the geology, rivers, landscape and ecology of the region. People are asking whether a reservoir and water transfer tunnel at Bilin will not do the same kind of damage.
Building a reservoir sacrifices more than just the area that is flooded. It can also wipe out local culture and be disastrous for places downstream. Besides, Hsinchu was struck by a big earthquake in 1935. Following the Typhoon Morakot flooding, who can have confidence that the dam will really stand for 100 years, the accepted minimum lifetime for civil engineering projects?
Although we are short of water, there are other, safer solutions available, such as building desalination plants to process seawater.
The storage capacity of existing reservoirs could be increased by 30 percent just by dredging them. By putting into practice existing water conservation policies, recycling waste water from industrial zones and cutting water leakage from today’s 30 percent to the less than 5 percent that is normal in developed countries, enough water could be saved each year to fill three reservoirs the size of Taipei County’s Feitsui Reservoir, or about 20 times the volume of the proposed Bilin reservoir.
The industries that dominate Taiwan’s science parks bring in low profits but use up a lot of natural resources. In estimating the cost of planned science and industrial parks, the government completely failed to take environmental costs into account. It is unacceptable that Taiwan’s water conservation planning should be based on such outmoded ideas.
If the government is serious about promoting sustainable industry, it must limit development to what the land and environment can provide. Consumption and pollution should be cut by a certain percentage each year, after which we will be in a position to plan the overall direction for industrial development over the following two or three decades. Manufacturing in Taiwan needs a structural shift away from resource-hungry industries to those based on human talent, and there is no better time than the present.
Tang Mau-tsu is head of the Experimental Facility Division at the National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center.
TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG
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