Effectively managing water resources is a top government priority given the increasing incidence of droughts and floods brought on by climate change. (Photo by Chen Mei-ling)

Upgrading strategies for better managing rainfall runoff and reservoirs is part and parcel of government efforts aimed at strengthening Taiwan’s aquatic environments.

The threat of extreme weather is increasingly challenging Taiwan’s water resources management experts. In 2015, the country faced its most serious drought since 1947, with the levels at Shimen Reservoir in northern Taiwan’s Taoyuan City—one of the largest in the country—dropping to about 20 percent of capacity. Fast-forward to July 2017 and Jiadong Township in southern Taiwan’s Pingtung County was inundated with 181.5 millimeters of rainfall in less than an hour courtesy of Typhoon Nesat.

This famine and feast situation stresses local flood control systems to breaking point and is a cause of great consternation for experts like Yu Gwo-hsing (虞國興‬), dean of New Taipei City-headquartered nongovernmental organization Taiwan Research Institute on Water Resources and Agriculture. “Given the impact of global warming, these events will become more frequent and intense. Taiwan must make a serious attempt to get to grips with them.”

Strong Solution
Yu sees the aquatic environments focus area of the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program (FIDP) as a strong step forward in mitigating the effects of extreme weather. Unveiled in March by the government, the FIDP is a comprehensive initiative aimed at addressing Taiwan’s key infrastructure needs over the next 30 years. Aquatic environments, budgeted at around NT$25 billion (US$833 million) for the first stage of the FIDP ending 2018, accounts for the second largest share of funding among the program’s eight focus areas.
According to the Water Resources Agency (WRA) under the Ministry of Economic Affairs, aquatic environments is aimed at providing reliable water supplies, preventing floods and building recreational environments for the public. One of its objectives is flood control, which includes measures such as constructing levees, improving rainwater drainage systems and upgrading pumping stations.
Lai Chien-hsin (賴建信), director-general of the WRA, said this component of aquatic environments is critical as 1,150 of Taiwan’s 36,197 square kilometers, including the outlying islands, are officially classified as flood prone. “Following a comprehensive survey of the nation’s rivers and drainage channels, the WRA drafted an action plan for ensuring they are all in working order,” he said. “This involved input from numerous experts and won’t detrimentally effect the natural environment or any wildlife habitats.”
At least 50 square kilometers are expected to be made less vulnerable to flooding by 2021 through the plan, mainly by reinforcing or building over 100 kilometers of local government-managed river levees and drainage channels. Similar measures employed by the WRA from 2006 to 2016 safeguarded 688 square kilometers, or 60 percent of the at-risk total.

Equal Attention

Although Yu is impressed by the prospect of strengthened flood controls, it is the commitment to addressing water shortages under the FIDP that turned his head. “I’m especially glad this time the government is giving equal attention to the ever-present challenge of ensuring stable water supplies,” he said.

“Taiwan is rarely short on rainfall,” Yu said. “But the real question is how to catch and retain it for future use.” Aquatic environments has this base covered with a reservoir construction program at three sites, respectively, in Miaoli and Nantou counties, as well as New Taipei City, he added.

Other reservoir-related projects promising major dividends are the construction of a desilting tunnel at the 209,690 billion-cubic-meter Shimen Reservoir and pipelines connecting the 101,585 billion-cubic-meter Nanhua and 491,590 billion-cubic-meter Zengwen reservoirs in southern Taiwan. The former is expected to significantly reduce silt levels, while the latter will allow for better coordination and management of water supplies.

Viable Alternatives

Taking care of existing water assets is important, but equally so is exploring alternative sources. This includes recycled water collected from factories and households, deep-sea water pumped at a depth of 200 meters off the coast of eastern Taiwan and desalinated water produced in outlying Lienchiang and Penghu counties. Another priority area is expanding Taiwan’s tap water network, which boasts an impressive 93 percent penetration rate—one of the highest in the world.

As the government pushes ahead with diversifying the country’s water supplies, it is at the same time implementing conservation practices utilizing the latest smart water technologies. This undertaking is viewed by experts as the most novel aspect of the aquatic environments. “Related technologies have already been developed,” said James Yang (楊崇明), general manager of Energy Management System Co. (EMS) based in southern Taiwan’s Tainan City. “All Taiwan has to do is to apply them more widely.”

According to Yang, his firm is the only one in Taiwan dedicated to designing and manufacturing smart water meters and data transmission equipment. “These devices are expected to be heavily relied on in the years ahead,” he said. “It’s anticipated they’ll soon start appearing in homes and repeat the success already notched up with major industrial water users and in smart residential buildings.”

Some of the impressive features of EMS products include real-time monitoring of pipe integrity and performance. “Once a leak is identified, the system automatically sends notification to the registered mobile device,” Yang said. “This helps keep water loss to a minimum and saves money.” The feature is scheduled for large-scale testing in the second half of next year as part of a WRA-backed project in 2,600 households across Taipei’s Wenshan District.

Additional applications for the EMS smart water systems encompass groundwater level monitoring. Overuse and depletion of groundwater is a serious problem in southwest Taiwan that is intensifying flood conditions and threatening the stability of the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) line. “It’s fine to pump groundwater within limits,” Yang said. “Smart monitoring systems installed at groundwater wells let authorities know when abuses occur and give them a head start in taking corrective action.”

Yang cautions that the effectiveness of any water-saving campaign stands to be undermined if the government leaves water rates at an average NT$9.24 (US$0.31) per cubic meter. “Low-cost water leads to wastage,” he said. “There’s a need for upward adjustment in line with market realities.”

For Yu Pao-shan (游保杉‬), professor of hydraulic and ocean engineering at National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, building aquatic environments for the public to use and enjoy is an admirable aspect of the initiative. “It reveals a desire to raise the quality of life in Taiwan and coincides with a new stage of societal development,” he said.

Under the 280-hectare initiative, 60 scenic spots featuring coastlines, lakes or rivers will be created with at least one in each of Taiwan’s 22 administrative regions. “Locales with aquatic frontage exude life force and leave visitors feeling relaxed and refreshed,” Yu said.

Lai, who is also bullish on the plan, identified Fatse Creek in central Taiwan’s Taichung City as a suitable candidate for transformation into a world-class aquatic environment. “Despite its location in an urban area, Fatse is rich in biodiversity and deserves to be given a wider audience.”

In February, Taichung City Government greenlighted a pilot landscaping project running along a 1.8-kilometer section of the creek adjacent to the THSR line. It is seeking additional funding under the FIDP and believes the stretch has the potential to give passengers an overwhelmingly favorable first impression of the city.

While the question of whether to carry out public landscaping programs is rarely debated in Taiwan, the issue of upkeep is a much tougher one often falling by the wayside. Yu Gwo-hsing said all parties must face facts that a project lives and dies by its maintenance program. “Local governments should dedicate enough funding for the new aquatic environments to function as designed and not become public eyesores.”

The FIDP’s aquatic environments focus area is no cure-all for Taiwan’s water ills. But, as Yu Gwo-hsing believes, it is a timely and worthwhile investment in the future. “At the very least, the steps being taken today demonstrate the government’s willingness to take action before it’s too late,” he said.

Write to Oscar Chung at mhchung@mofa.gov.tw

(Source：Taming the Waters