Cri­sis is op­por­tu­nity to im­prove the na­tion’s wa­ter

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

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.

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