Feitsui Reservoir Reputation for Water Quality Shattered Overnight
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 12, 2015
Executive Summary: Typhoon Soudelor has passed. Two disasters have befallen the City of
Taipei. The first involves the Feitsui Reservoir, an erstwhile model of
efficiency which supplies water to the entire island of Taiwan. For
three consecutive days it has piped contaminated water to the public.
The second involves tens of thousands of trees along the city's
parkways. The scene is heart-breaking. Mayor Ko Wen-je, it turns out,
was home all day during the typhoon. He was a no-show at the Taipei
Emergency Operations Center. This provoked widespread complaints that
despite Ko's frequent boasts about putting "white (aka, KMT) governance"
to shame, he betrayed scant concern for the public welfare.
Full Text Below:
Typhoon Soudelor has passed. Two disasters have befallen the City of Taipei. The first involves the Feitsui Reservoir, an erstwhile model of efficiency which supplies water to the entire island of Taiwan. For three consecutive days it has piped contaminated water to the public. The second involves tens of thousands of trees along the city's parkways. The scene is heart-breaking. Mayor Ko Wen-je, it turns out, was home all day during the typhoon. He was a no-show at the Taipei Emergency Operations Center. This provoked widespread complaints that despite Ko's frequent boasts about putting "white (aka, KMT) governance" to shame, he betrayed scant concern for the public welfare.
The Feitsui Reservoir was built in 1987. It has been in operation for 28 years. Its water supply has long remained stable, its water quality pure, and its water rates low. It has been the pride of Taipei City. Who knew the recent typhoon would end all that? Upstream mud and rock slides increased upstream Xindian Creek turbidity. Turbidity measurements skyrocketed to nearly 40,000 Formazin Turbidity Units (FTUs), over 1,000 times normal. Roiling brown waters left onlookers aghast. Who knew the Taipei Water Department would disregard water quality standards and public safety considerations? Who knew it would feed these waters from polluted streams directly into water treatment plants, then into peoples' homes?
The public has been scrambling to buy bottled water in supermarkets. Ko Wen-je seized the opportunity to launch a pre-emptive strike against the KMT ruled central government. He alleged that the source of water turbidity was the Nanshih Creek. He blamed the central government for poor soil and water conservation practices, and demanded that the central government conduct an inspection as soon as possible. Ko's rhetoric rang with self-righteousness. But Nanshih Creek water and soil conservation problems did not arise yesterday. If they impacted the quality of the public's drinking water, why didn't Ko respond long ago and remedy the situation? Besides, the Taipei Water Department could have adopted a "triage" approach to Nanshih Creek water turbidity. It could have isolated the Nanshih Creek's turbid water, and accessed the relatively clear Peishih Creek. Instead, it allowed people to drink contaminated water for an entire day before informing them that it was unfit for human consumption.
Put simply, the reputation of the Feitsui Reservoir has been shattered by poor water and soil conservation practices along the Nanshih Creek upstream. But the roiling brown water being piped into Taipei residents' homes, is the result of Ko administration's failures in management and service provisions. It was unable to adapt. It was unable or reluctant to confront the problems and tackle them head on.
Take the Shihmen Reservoir for example. Upstream overdevelopment created serious problems. In 2004, Typhoon Aere caused upstream landslides that increased water turbidity tens of thousands of FTUs. Taoyuan residents were left without water for days. The Water Resources Agency devoted considerable effort to remedy the problem. Legislation improved management of the upstream catchment. A new reservoir design improved desilting. Water intakes were located at different depths in the reservoir to mitigate the impact of water turbidity. The same was true for Typhoon Soudelor. The water quality from Shihmen Reservoir was normal. The water from Feitsui Reservoir was brown, This shows there were reasons for Shimen Reservoir's improvement and Feitsui Reservoir's decline.
Take the Feitsui Reservoir for example. Water quality in the Peishih Creek directly upstream from the reservoir was not a problem. The problem was that the Taipei Water Department water intake was located further downstream, in Chitan. Between Feitsui Reservoir and Chitan, water from Nanshih Creek entered. If water from the Nanshih Creek is unclean, Feitsui Reservoir water, no matter how clear, is certain to be polluted. Examples such as the Shihmen Reservoir have led experts to recommend diverting water from the Peishih Creek and Nanshih Creek. If necessary, polluted water from Nanshih Creek can be isolated, preventing it from flowing directly into the clean water of Chitan. Ironically, the Taipei Water Department has long been resting on its laurels, on the reputation of the Feitsui Reservoir. As a result the public mistakenly assumed it was drinking natural and clean tap water. This myth would eventually be shattered by Typhoon Soudelor.
The pollution of Nanshi Creek is in fact related to recent overdevelopment of the Wulai Mountain District hot springs. The hot springs and shops have damaged the soil and water. They have dumped waste water everywhere, willy nilly, affecting Nanshih Creek water quality. Overdevelopment has also led to landslides for Wulai residents. These problems have been around for years. But government agencies have dealt with them in a cavalier manner. The Nanshih Creek water and soil conservation management agencies are even more ridiculous. The central governmetn Council of Agriculture, Forest Service, Water District Agency, Taipei City Government, and New Taipei City Government are all implicated. The result of layer upon layer of bureaucracy has been the "Tragedy of the Commons".
The Feitsui Reservoir's reputation for water quality has been shattered, overnight. The public has been forced to drink brown water. It now realizes that contaminated water from the Feitsui Reservoir was piped into their homes in a slapdash manner. How can it not be distraught? Similarly, tens of thousands of trees in Taipei were toppled, mainly because they were not pruned in a timely manner. The tree beds are usually too small, and offer insufficient foothold for top-heavy trees. As result, the streets have become tree cemeteries. This scene of desolation took even Ko Wen-je by surprise. Since taking office, Ko has held forth about "standard operationg procedure", throwing temper tantrums and ordering his underlings to "Get out of my sight!" A wave of resignations swept the Park and Street Lights Office, resulting in insufficient manpower. Ko publicly excoriated the Farglory Taipei Dome project. As he saw it, he was displaying reformist resolve. But when it came to the public's daily need for water, and its emotional ties to old trees in their community, he betrayed callous indifference and left people utterly disillusioned.
Ko Wen-je loves to hold forth on reform. But he needs to do more than just talk. If the mayor prefers to stay home all day when typhoons strike, that's not a problem. But he cannot neglect the pruning and cleanup of roadside trees even as he excoriates the Shihmen Reservoir for flood discharges. He cannot pipe polluted drinking water into peoples' homes, even as he disavows all responsibility for the fiasco.
2015-08-12 01:34:56 聯合報 聯合報社論