Recent reports have said that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) is planning to establish an advanced chip manufacturing plant in Taoyuan that would specialize in the 2-nanometer process. TSMC, known as Taiwan’s “silicon shield,” is a heavyweight enterprise in the nation’s economy.
Regardless, attention should be paid to the great amount of water and power TSMC consumes. The Datan Power Plant is expected to supply the planned Taoyuan plant with power, but plans for its water supply are still hanging in the air.
It is well known that Taoyuan relies heavily on the Shihmen Reservoir (石門水庫) for its supply, but the reservoir’s capacity is relatively small.
With 200 million cubic meters of storage, it is Taiwan’s third-largest reservoir, but the demand for its water is far greater than the Feitsui Reservoir (翡翠水庫) in New Taipei City, the country’s second-largest reservoir.
Demand for Shihmen Reservoir’s water over the past five years reached 670 million cubic meters per year, emptying the reservoir three to four times a year, meaning the reservoir is completely drained about every 14 weeks.
If water supplies do not materialize as expected, the Taoyuan City Government would have to arrange for artificial precipitation or other conservation measures.
Another way to consider the Shihmen Reservoir’s capacity is to think about enlarging its water storage capacity and catchment area. Consider data that show how much rain is needed to fill reservoirs around Taiwan. Feitsui Reservoir needs to receive more than 1,100mm of rainwater to reach maximum capacity, Zengwen Reservoir (曾文水庫) needs 1,053mm and Shihmen Reservoir only needs 261mm.
A typhoon alone in the plum rain season would bring more than 300mm of rainwater to Shihmen Reservoir. As a result, a large amount of the rainwater overflows into the Tamsui River.
For the past five years, except for a lack of rain in 2020, the amount of water lost in every discharge from Shihmen Reservoir was 260 million cubic meters at minimum, and 730 million cubic meters at its greatest.
Water is a national resource, and it must be accurately directed and regulated across the country. The Ministry of Economic Affairs has proposed the Pearl Necklace Project (珍珠串鍊計畫) to improve the distribution of water resources and to facilitate mutual coordination.
As all Taiwanese benefit when resources are equally accessible, the government needs to deploy water reserves to those in need and build regional resilience to drought situations.
However, many people are objecting to local redistribution of water, and have challenged the ministry’s proposal. It would divert water from Nanshi Creek (南勢溪) in New Taipei City’s Wulai District (烏來) to the upper reaches of Shihmen Reservoir in neighboring Taoyuan, but Nanshi Creek communities and environmentalists rejected the plan, which led to the ministry revoking its proposal.
If TSMC cannot be sure of the source of its water supply, would it go ahead with building the fab in Taoyuan?
To ensure a steady supply of water, Taoyuan needs to take the bull by the horns. For example, the recently dug artificial Zhongzhuang Auxiliary Lake mainly acts as a backup reservoir when water becomes murky, but the lake also provides an extra 5 million cubic meters of storage capacity, thereby reducing pressure on Shihmen Reservoir’s water demand.
Furthermore, whether the reservoir can elevate its level at full pool also needs consideration. After Typhoon Gloria in 1963, Taiwan came to understand that there are no safety concerns regarding maximum water elevations. Perhaps Shihmen Reservoir’s heights could be raised, as has been done with the Zengwen Reservoir.
Aside from government measures such as recycling wastewater and desalinating seawater, private enterprises can also contribute to water supply efforts.
Formosa Plastics Group has built a desalination plant in Mailiao Township (麥寮) to provide its factory with 100,000 tonnes of fresh water. TSMC could emulate Formosa’s efforts.
Although the TSMC fab would not be located near the sea, it could build a desalination plant and supply coastal industrial areas with fresh water in exchange for the certainty of water supply for its fab.
Only when there is a steady supply of water can an enterprise grow — not only for TSMC, but also for other enterprises. As the Shihmen Reservoir is too small to keep up with water demands, new ways of increasing its supply capabilities must be determined as soon as possible.
Chang Yen-ming is a former director of the Water Resources Agency.
Translated by Rita Wang
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