The Ministry of Economic Affairs has implemented water restrictions for Miaoli County and parts of Taichung, cutting off supply for two days per week starting on Tuesday.
Clearly, Taiwan has moved into the emergency response phase of the current drought.
The question is whether the nation’s water resources are inherently so sparse. Also, how is Taiwan to deal with drought/flood cycles due to extreme weather events?
Taiwan should avail itself of this opportunity to pool its resources and devise ways in which Taiwanese can work together to prevent droughts from happening.
Taiwan proper gets as much as 2,500mm of rainfall per year, but it is a small, densely populated island with high mountains and steep river profiles, resulting in the rapid outflow of water resources.
Retention and distribution of the water presents problems, but Taiwan does not inherently have a water supply shortage.
While it is unreasonable to entirely blame a nation’s hydrological infrastructure for droughts, it is the responsibility of the national government of any advanced country to manage its water resources as effectively as possible.
In addition to the difficulties in retaining water from rainfall, extreme weather events have meant that there have been fewer rainy days in Taiwan, but more days of heavy rain.
Even though there has been little change in annual rainfall, the risk of flooding and droughts has increased.
This is exacerbated by the uneven distribution of rainfall in the northern, central and southern parts of the nation.
In northern Taiwan, 60 percent of annual rainfall occurs in the rainy season from May through October, while 40 percent falls in the dry season from November through April.
In central Taiwan, only 20 percent of annual rainfall occurs during the dry season, while in southern Taiwan, it is only 10 percent.
The center and south are usually affected the most by droughts, as rainfall is distributed most unevenly.
Central and southern Taiwan are at higher risk of water shortages than the north, but they have the greatest water demand due to a larger area of agricultural land.
From the standpoint of sustainable development, Taiwan must discuss how to achieve balance in water and electricity provision for farming and industry in southern and central areas, and how to distribute some of the north’s water there.
The water in reservoirs is running low, which is the main reason for the water restrictions, so why not use groundwater wells as a way to mitigate the drought in the short term?
The hydrological cycle for surface water is less than a week, making it heavily influenced by the weather, while the hydrological cycle for groundwater is up to more than a year, making it more resilient when droughts occur.
Government agencies should increase the use and development of groundwater resources to make the country less vulnerable to drought.
At the same time, desalinated seawater, which is also less influenced by changes in the weather, could be used to further diversify Taiwan’s water supply.
Taichung has plentiful groundwater resources, and this author has written before how Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co should exploit the groundwater at its facilities and how the Water Resources Agency could work together with the Taichung City Government to make groundwater available to households to mitigate the current situation.
In addition to developing water sources and distributing water throughout the country, Taiwan Water Corp should employ smart water meters to more effectively manage resources, and the government should request that it introduce them as quickly as possible.
While the utility is implementing water restrictions, it should also make its data available so that the public can join the effort to tackle the drought.
Johnson Kung is a civil engineer.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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