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Taiwan Rations Water to Ease Unusual Drought

  • Ralph Jennings

Normally rainy Taiwan is rationing water to ease its worst drought in a decade. The western Pacific island that averages annual rainfall of 2,500 millimeters has seen the lowest levels in 67 years since October, depleting reservoirs that serve the most populated cities and counties. The government has cut household and industrial use until rainfall returns to normal.

The rationing has saved about 500,000 tons of water so far. In parts of northern Taiwan, households are now able to receive tap water just five days a week, prompting some to store up in advance. About 800,000 households had been affected as of March. In industrial regions, factories are recycling water and cutting back on air conditioning.

Water Resources Agency spokesman Lai Chien-hsin blames a shift in ocean temperatures for rainfall of just 1.643 meters last year.

He says that of course part of the reason is related to temperatures of the Pacific Ocean and that a cold, dry band of air has been aimed at Taiwan, resulting in a trend of low rainfall all of last year.

Officials decided in November, after monitoring water levels for two months, to begin rationing supplies. Rationing affects all or part of nine cities and counties along Taiwan’s densely populated west coast. In the city of Taoyuan, part of New Taipei city and part of Hsinchu county, households and businesses go without tap water two days per week.

The drought has unleashed criticism over suspected leaky pipes and reservoirs that are too old or to too clogged with silt to hold whatever rain falls. Shimen Reservoir, which serves much of northern Taiwan, was at about a quarter of capacity as of April 8. Low-flush, low-flow bathroom equipment is also rare on the island of 23 million people.

Lai with the Taiwan Water Resources Agency said the government wants to double the amount of dredging now so reservoirs can hold more water.

He said the agency is always continuing to carry out this kind of work. But due to the drought situation, Lai said, authorities are moving toward the biggest reservoir dredging measures ever with a goal of at least doubling the average level they have normally dredged in the past.

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said last month that by May he would try to head off a water shortage that would more seriously affect common households. He also called for better management of Taiwan’s water.