Crisis is opportunity to improve the nation’s water
As previously announced, Hsinchu, Taoyuan and parts of New Taipei started to enforce stricter rationing yesterday, meaning that household water supplies are now reduced to five days a week on a rotational basis. Local authorities have already stopped water supplies to households in Linkou, Wugu and Taishan districts of New Taipei, Hukou and Xinfeng townships in Hsinchu, and the whole of Taoyuan until midnight Thursday, in order to address the country’s worst drought in 60-plus years. The following days, supplies will be suspended in other parts in Northern Taiwan after the water level of Shihmen Reservoir, which supplies most of Northern Taiwan, has dropped to 24.56 percent of capacity. That is extremely worrisome. Even though we might all feel relatively powerless against the caprices of nature, we would also like to remind the ruling and opposition parties that they are partly responsible for this poor water management and it is time to turn the crisis into an opportunity for action. Yes, you might say, but how?
To begin with, we shouldn’t tell ourselves that we could have done a better job if only we’d had more time or a little more rain. To the contrary, we should admit that we did a poor job at rationing water supplies and we shouldn’t be satisfied with this plan of water rationing on a rotational basis. This is a cheap kind of happy. We are just whittling our expectations of ourselves down lower and lower instead of questioning our water management and the looming effects of climate change on our daily lives. We are already at a dead-end. This is not the first time that Taiwan has been affected by a severe drought and more is too come, so now is not the time to let our leaders resort to their good-old “wait and see” policy anymore. As Richard O’Connor, the British Army general who commanded the Western Desert Force in the early years of WWII, put it, “procrastination is a way for us to be satisfied with second-rate results”; and it is clear that more will need to be done by the executive and legislative branches to address such issues from now on.
On the one hand, we need to improve water resource management by improving the planning, developing, distributing and managing of water resources in a more optimum way. Today, we are paying slightly more for water than we did a decade ago. Even though water utilities have fallen into debt and the nation’s water infrastructure has deteriorated steadily, we keep on squandering water resources. That is the true cost of cheap water: waste. It is now time to send the “right signal” for proper water usage and reward those who truly reduce water consumption. Take shorter showers, turn off the water after you wet your toothbrush, use your clothes washer only for full loads, or install low-flow faucet aerators. These are among the many tips to improve water conservation, which, in addition to saving money on your utility bill, help prevent water pollution in nearby lakes, rivers and swamps. That will be a good start for water conservation at home and is one of the easiest measures to put in place. Water conservation starts here and it should be part of everyday family practices.
On the other hand, water rationing could be greatly improved if the pipes, water mains and aqueducts that carry water around the cities and counties didn’t leak. As much as 15 percent of water used in major urban areas is lost thanks to leaky pipes, according to numerous sources. By improving the detection and maintenance of those leaks, millions of liters of water could be saved every year, while the increasing revenue could be used to improve infrastructure. That is another consequence of cheap water: squandering of public resources during a national crisis. We must understand that in many ways, the drought is going to become the new norm in Taiwan. As the population grows and industries continue to expand, water demand will continue to grow as well, so we need to better consider how we are going to sustain a very critical resource like water. Cheap water is a cheap happy, and proper water management should be the best way to address this crisis for the years to come.