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Southern Taiwan lacks water despite infrastructure investment

Tainan has ample investments in reclaimed water plants and reservoirs but still faces drought like conditions

Tainan continues to experience drought conditions. (CNA photo)

Tainan continues to experience drought conditions. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — On March 1, Tainan implemented “orange light” water restrictions, cutting household and industrial water supply by 20%, becoming the only municipality in Taiwan to impose such restrictions.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Council of Agriculture announced that 19,000 hectares of rice in the Chiayi-Tainan Plain will go fallow. Tainan is clearly suffering from drought despite the fact that it has the most reservoirs and reclaimed water plants in Taiwan, per Storm Media.

Furthermore, Tainan will soon have the largest desalination plant in Taiwan. The government’s Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program will invest NT$1.2 billion (US$39 million) in a Tsengwen-Nanhua water pipeline bringing water from Kaohsiung.

With so much water-related infrastructure investment in Tainan, why does a water shortage continue to exist? First of all, the region is obviously experiencing a drought of historical proportions. The second reason is more vexing as plans to stimulate the industrialization of Tainan have failed to take into account infrastructure development.

Heavy rain simply has not fallen in Tainan in more than 600 days. Last year saw the least rainfall in 30 years, and two years ago (2021) was the worst drought in 100 years, per Storm Media. This has led the South Region Water Resources Office to stimulate rainfall through artificial rain enhancement and dredging of the Tsengwen Reservoir.

Investments to stimulate the industrial economy of southern Taiwan has led industrial land to increase significantly in DPP controlled municipalities (Chiayi, Tainan, Kaohsiung, and Pingtung). By 2036, industrial land will increase in these four counties by 25% compared to 2020, exacerbating the water shortage problem.

But while Kaohsiung also faces a tight water supply, as demonstrated by water levels at the Gaoping River dropping to seven cubic meters per second, municipal water supply has remained normal, indicating better municipal water supply management. For example, Kaohsiung has two reclaimed water plants currently supplying water, three underground water reservoirs, and plans to build a desalination plant.

Tainan can learn from this example, or else government efforts to stimulate industrial development in the south will be frugal, since there will be no water to power the industries it seeks to nurture.