Gate­keep­ing lessons must be learned from Typhoon Soude­lor wa­ter out­age

The China Post - - LOCAL - BY STEPHANIE CHAO

The dev­as­ta­tion of Wu­lai due to Typhoon Soude­lor re­mains un­con­cluded as it en­ters another stage of events. It is un­de­ni­able that the cen­tral and lo­cal gov­ern­ments must be held re­spon­si­ble for the wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion caused by the typhoon. How­ever, like most post-dis­as­ter re­ac­tions, no one is will­ing to shoul­der the re­spon­si­bil­ity for now.

The worst-hit ar­eas in terms of un­drink­able wa­ter are in Taipei City and New Taipei City. Cit­i­zens usu­ally get their clean, fil­tered wa­ter from two sources, the Feis­tui Reser­voir and the Nan­shi River. It was sug­gested by lo­cal media re­ports that a pos­si­ble rea­son for the se­vere land­slides in moun­tain­ous ar­eas sur­round­ing the Nan­shi River was the over-de­vel­op­ment of the up­stream area, which dam­aged soil and car­ried soil-con­tam­i­nated wa­ter into the wa­ter plants down­stream.

Un­der­stand­ing why the area saw land­slides and brought con­tam­i­nated wa­ter into Taipei City and New Taipei City is a pri­or­ity so as to avoid fu­ture in­ci­dents. New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu promised to con­duct de­tailed in­ves­ti­ga­tions once res­cue oper­a­tions are com­pleted.

How­ever, there is also one im­por­tant point that no one has ad­dressed yet: the role of the wa­ter plant, as it is the down­stream gate­keeper that keeps wa­ter clean for the city dwellers.

The wa­ter plant is re­spon­si­ble for not only pro­cess­ing wa­ter, but it can also ex­er­cise con­trol over the wa­ter sup­ply through its sluice gates. How was the wa­ter plant op­er­at­ing dur­ing and af­ter the typhoon? It is pos­si­ble the de­gree of con­tam­i­na­tion was so se­vere that even the sluices could not process the wa­ter fast enough. On the other hand, it is also prob­a­ble that the plants had been op­er­at­ing un­der nor­mal pa­ram­e­ters.

Re­gard­less, there are pos­si­ble pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures that could be car­ried out in ad­vance of the typhoon and so­lu­tions to strengthen the wa­ter plant’s role in over­see­ing a clean wa­ter sup­ply. For one, sluices chan­nel­ing wa­ter from the Nan­shi River could be tem­po­rar­ily shut down com­pletely, or time of wa­ter stay­ing within the wa­ter plant could be length­ened, so as to let con­tam­i­nat­ing ma­te­ri­als set­tle. Clean wa­ter could then be re­leased into the city once go­ing through the nec­es­sary pro­ce­dures. On the other hand, in­creas­ing the wa­ter sup­ply into the down­stream wa­ter plant from the Feis­tui Reser­voir would be a pos­si­ble so­lu­tion as well.

There is also another fac­tor to ad­dress. As house­holds hold their wa­ter in wa­ter tanks af­ter chan­nel­ing wa­ter from the up­stream, the re­cent con­tam­i­na­tion would dam­age and pol­lute these tanks, in turn im­pos­ing clean­ing costs for the af­fected cit­i­zens. En­ter­prises con­duct­ing wa­ter-tank clean­ing have al­ready prof­ited, as busi­ness boomed along­side with cit­i­zens’ de­mand for clean wa­ter.

In an event that was most likely a care­less mis­take caused by oth­ers, should the af­fected cit­i­zens pay for wa­ter-tank clean­ing costs, or should the gov­ern­ment foot the bill un­der re­spon­si­bil­ity for its lack of fore­sight?

It shows that gov­ern­ment sec­tors did not plan ahead, and un­der­es­ti­mated the se­vere dam­age it would cause in both ma­jor north­ern cities. It is bet­ter to be safe than sorry, a con­cept that the sec­tors con­cerned did not seem to heed in this round of ty­phoonbat­ter­ing.

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