Drought may cause halt to rice paddy irrigation; water agency

Taipei, Dec. 3 (CNA) Thanks to the worst drought in a decade, it is inevitable that rice field irrigation in Taiwan in the late winter/early spring season of next year -- the first planting of the year -- will be halted, the Water Resource Agency director-general said Wednesday. Disruption to agricultural irrigation "is unlikely to be preventable," Yang Wei-pu said after the year's first working meeting of a drought disaster control and prevention team supervised by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) and presided over by Economics Minister Duh Tyzz-jiun. However, Yang noted that whether or not a suspension of irrigation is absolutely necessary will not be certain until the end of December or mid-January. If it has to be done, around 30,000 hectares of farmland around the island will be affected, he estimated. A halt to agricultural irrigation will be part of the MOEA's emergency measures aimed at preventing the drought from impacting economic activities and people's lives in Taiwan, if the drought, which Yang described as the worst in nearly 10 years, continues to worsen. According to precedent, affected farmers will be compensated by the government for their losses. Facing the challenge, the MOEA has set two goals, Yang said. He explained that in the first and short-term goal, efforts will be made to maintain a stable water supply for livelihoods and industrial uses by the beginning of the Spring Festival holiday in February next year. The second and long-term goal will be trying to save as many areas from entering "phase-three" water rationing by the end of May next year, before the coming of the annual rain season, Yang said, explaining that phase-three means supplying water to different areas on a rotating basis. Currently, several cities and counties have entered phase-one water rationing, which means water pressure is reduced during night hours. They are Taoyuan, New Taipei's Linkou District, Hsinchu, Miaoli, Taichung, northern parts of Changhua County and Tainan. New Taipei's Banqiao and Xinzhuang Districts, along with Kaohsiung, will follow suit Dec. 8, according to the MOEA. Duh warned that the southern city of Kaohsiung has the most serious water problem on the island, given that there are no large reservoirs in that area. The current water reserves there are "very, very far from ideal," he said. On when water rationing will enter the phase-two stage, the Water Resource Agency has said it is closely monitoring rainfall levels and water conservation efforts and hopes to extend the period of uninterrupted water supply as long as possible through existing rationing and water-saving steps. Phase-two rationing restricts the supply of water to major non-industry users such as swimming pools and car washes. (By Huang Chiao-wen and Elizabeth Hsu)