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Water Shortage in Taiwan: Resource Management

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Water Shortage in Taiwan: Resource Management

The United Nations has listed Taiwan as one of the countries facing a water crisis in the 21st century, given its few available water resources. Although the nation’s annual rainfall of 2,500mm, about 2.6 times higher than the world average, the nation's steep topography sends 46 percent of that rainfall directly into the sea. Moreover, sitting across tropical and sub-tropical zones, Taiwan loses another 33.3 percent of its rainfall annually.

Early in 2002, a drought lowered water reserves at reservoirs across Taiwan. It highlighted the water shortage at the Hsinchu Science-based Industrial Park. Water surface at the Feitsu Reservoir, which supplies millions of residents in the Taipei metropolitan area with water, had lost 30cm a day from March to April.

Consequently, an increasing number of water resource-management related problems had been raised by legislators who called Taiwan’s emphasis on water preservation ironic when officials warned of possible rationing in Taipei. Legislators said the water that leaks from old aqueducts around Taipei each year is nearly twice that of the Feitsui Reservoir's water storage capacity. They said that the amount of water lost in 2001 was 714 million tons, which meant NT$7 billion in financial losses for the water supplier. According to PFP Legislator Liu Wen-hsiung, Leaking old aqueducts were depleting national resources. Another PFP Legislator, Lee Hung-chun urged water resource administrative units to replace all leaky old aqueducts by the end of 2011 to avoid causing additional industry losses.

Water being sold too cheaply was one of the core problems facing Taiwan’s resource managers. Director-General of the Water Resources Agency Hwang Jing-san said that only if prices are raised will people begin to conserve. He added that building more reservoirs is the only other solution. He said that they have no choice but to build new reservoirs to preserve more water and to meet increasing water demand. Hwang said that old aqueducts would be replaced and that they would conduct research on developing more advanced water-loss-detection technology. In addition to carrying out projects aiming at removing sediment from reservoirs where silt had been piling up, building new sustainable reservoirs was one way that water storage capacity could be increased.

Taiwan's reservoirs had accumulated too much silt and are losing their capacity to hold water. Long-term soil erosion caused by poor land management in mountainous areas has brought tons of silt down into the nation's dams. Recent statistics show that 277 million cubic meters of silt have accumulated in Taiwan's reservoirs. However, by the end of 2001, only 29.7 million cubic meters of silt had been removed.

Sedimentation had reduced the effective storage capacity of reservoirs in Taiwan and the storage capacity was reduced due to the accumulation of sediment. This could be attributed to the shortage of funds for carrying out sediment dredging projects. Legislators questioned water resources officials about the build-up of silt in the reservoirs and demanded that emergency measures be implemented to dredge sediment from the nation's reservoirs. In early 2002, water resource officials said that they were conducting two sediment dredging projects but the projects were not completed due to a lack of funds.

Moreover, the negligence could be attributed to the lack of dumping sites for sediment. Before a market mechanism is established, handling sediment dredged out from reservoirs will still be a headache. Further, the capacity of Taiwan's reservoirs has been reduced due to the government's wait-and-see attitude toward sediment problems. Making more efforts to reduce the loss of forests and to reforest exposed areas should also be part of a comprehensive strategy to managing water resources.

In 2002, the Council for Economic Planning and Development approved the Hushan Reservoir project in Yunling County. The reservoir, scheduled to be completed by 2008, will supply 694,000 tons of water per day to the Yunlin area for both industrial and residential use. In early March, the Ministry of the Interior also approved the development project, but requested that the water resource officials provide more information on its ecological systems survey, reservoir safety assessment and water demand evaluation. It also asked the Water Resources Agency to effectively communicate with residents on the project within three months.

Water is a natural resource that supports life on earth so it is essential to be protected and managed to ensure sustainable development. Water is a major natural resource that covers 70% of earth's surface and is a critical factor in economic development. As populations grow and water use per person rises, the demand for water soars. To avoid crisis due to water shortages, Taiwan must take effective measures to conserve water.

Taiwan, like other countries which are suffering from water shortage, needs to have an effective water resource management. Decision and policy making are often inadequate. Policies are politically motivated and cater to populist sentiments, lacking consideration of long term consequences and holistic approach. Awareness of the water issues is high only in times of drought and extreme shortage and dramatic degradation in quality with little attention given to long term preventive measures. Water resource management becomes ineffective when many agencies are involved.

Overall awareness of hydro-environmental limits to water resource mobilisation is generally poor. Political commitment and public education to promote resource protection and conservation is inadequate. Awareness raising must be matched by incentives to change. A carefully orchestrated policy of public education, pricing needs to be considered.

Open, transparent and continuous process of consultation and participation is essential if natural water resources are to be managed in an equitable and sustainable fashion. The role of the government as providers of technical support and policy makers should be supported by local (district) action as mobilizers or promoters of community based management to yield positive results in terms of income generation and environmental protection.

Artificial lakes, capable of supporting ecosystems, should be created. In low-lying areas, rain water should be collected to create artificial lakes instead of dumping garbage. Existing lakes should be frequently desalted and cleaned. Water plants should not be allowed to grow on the surface of water. Building new dams to solve water shortage problems without doing dredging first is irresponsible. In addition to reducing the lifespan of existing dams, sediment creates problems during dam removal. Moreover, building the dam would destroy more than 300 hectares of habitats for endangered species such as the fairy pitta, known in Chinese as the "eight-color bird”.

Public health and environmental quality are threatened because of water resource shortage. As water becomes scarce, sanitation, irrigation and life support functions essential to human survival and public health are compromised. New technologies should be developed for economically viable water resource management. Adequate funding should be provided for this purpose by the Taiwanese government.



The China Post staff. (2003) Anti-drought measures to begin in northern Taiwan. The China Post, March, 5

Yu-Tzu, C. (2002) Reservoirs shrinking as silt deposits grow. Taipei Times, April, 4.

______. (2002) Water management meets criticism. Taipei Times,  April 16, 2

______. (2001) Water rationing begins in Taipei. Taipei Times, April 24, 1.


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