Flow from the main source of water in the Kaohsiung area, the Gaoping River Weir (高屏攔河堰), has dropped to close to 6.2m3 per second — its lowest in 21 years.
The alert level in the Kaohsiung and Tainan areas has been raised from green to yellow, and these are also the only two areas that implemented first-level water rationing on Thursday last week by lowering water pressure during off-peak hours.
Many people ignore that Taiwan has a water shortage. There is a huge difference between low and high water flows in southern Taiwan, and periods of drought are common.
Still, to promote economic development and full employment, the region continues to endeavor to attract businesses and investment.
It was only in the past two years that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co and Winbond Electronics Corp set up operations there, but social conditions have restricted the development of the necessary water resources, which has made full cooperation difficult.
According to a 2016 assessment by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, seven counties and cities would experience water shortages by 2031 to the tune of 640,000 tonnes per day.
The shortages would be most severe in Tainan and Kaohsiung at approximately 230,000 tonnes each daily.
Although various short and long-term programs might reduce that gap to 180,000 tonnes, leaving only Chiayi, Tainan and Kaohsiung with water shortages, the severity of the water situation in southern Taiwan is obvious.
More distant water resource development plans in the south have ended with the demise of the Meinong (美濃) and Majia (瑪家) reservoir projects, and later the Zengwen Yueyin (曾文越引) and Gaoping Great Lakes (高屏大湖) projects.
Kaohsiung has survived the past few years because the intake pipeline from the Nanhua Reservoir (南化水庫) has diverted water to the Gaoping River Weir.
The latest plans involve the development of underflow water and the Zengwen-Nanhua intake pipeline. The volume provided by the former is restricted, and can only be used as backup during a drought. The latter involves diverting water and is not a catchment that would store water during rainfall for use during dry spells.
In the event of a major drought, Tainan and Kaohsiung would be in a difficult situation.
In the current drought, Kaohsiung’s only choice is to open up five wastewater treatment plants to provide recycled water, but this only amounts to 39,000 tonnes per day. This water is not for human consumption — it cannot even be used to wash hands — so it will not be helpful during a drought.
Given the difficulty in developing new water storage facilities, water resource projects must focus on developing underflow water and dredging existing reservoirs, preventing them from silting up, and updating and improving them, as well as connecting existing water pipelines to divert water.
Water needs will continue to grow in tandem with social and economic development, climate change and improving living standards.
It is time to give the long-suspended Gaoping Great Lake project new consideration and include it as one of the options for new developments.
A lake-style reservoir has a small environmental impact. With a water shortage in southern Taiwan, it is unfortunate that water in Gaoping River is allowed to pour freely into the sea.
Unless people understand how difficult the water supply situation is and water resource projects are quickly initiated to address it, water shortages would become a recurring nightmare for many years to come.
Chang Yen-ming is a former director of the Water Resources Agency.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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