Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Gaoping Great Lakes Controversy

Map of Gaoping Great Lakes Project (source). Google satellite image of area.

Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert remains one of the great books on water policy, and one of the things he notes in it is how water projects develop a life of their own, with justifications and shapes shifting over time, but with the drive to build the dam thing no matter how bad a dog it is never dying. Are we seeing this in the Gaoping Great Lakes Project? The Taipei Times reports on a protest:
Environmentalists and farmers from Pingtung County and Greater Kaohsiung yesterday staged a protest against the Gaoping Great Lakes (高屏大湖) project, which they fear would divert water used for farming and damage local soybean production.

A project of the Water Resources Agency’s (WRA) Southern Region Water Resources Office, it would build five manmade lakes in a nearly 700-hectare area covering many farms at the border of Pingtung County’s Ligang Township (里港) and Greater Kaohsiung’s Meinong District (美濃).

The project was originally part of the Jiyang artificial lake project, which passed an environmental impact assessment in 2002, for cross-border water channeling and to save water during dry seasons.

After severe flooding in the south caused by Typhoon Morakot in August 2009, the project was modified to become part of a southern Taiwan water stabilization project by the WRA. It was further modified into a three-phase project, with the first artificial lake — covering about 200 hectares — being constructed in the first stage.


The project aims to channel excess water from the Nanhua Reservoir (南化水庫) and the Gaoping River Dam (高屏溪攔河堰), but the only time the two areas have excess water is in summer, Yang said.

Moreover, since the target areas do not suffer from a water shortage during summer, he questioned why the government should spend billions of dollars to construct manmade lakes that would have very limited benefits.
The lakes have a depth of just 12m. This website observes that not only are the soybean farmers and workers in the area protesting, but in Ligang the Thai Shrimp farming and vegetable farming will also suffer from water shortages if pond E is built. Because locals are so dead set against the project, the legislature has canceled the budget on several occasions, it reports.

Another view (source).

Another article states the government's position on the young soybean impact:
The irrigation authorities, citing the Council of Agriculture, say that the total area of the first and second soybean crop is 7,338 hectares, of which the initial development, E area, represents just 188.86 hectares, or 2.57% of the (re)planted area, or 7.56% of the Pingtung young soybean land area of 2,497 hectares.

The farmers respond that the first crop and the second crop are not identical -- the government is engaging in mathematical sleight of hand, lowballing the estimate by playing with the first crop vs the total area planted. According to the farmers, soybeans are planted in spring and fall in Taiwan. Thus, the effective area lost to the farmers is 367 hectares (twice the government's estimate) because two season's worth of production, first and second crop, is lost.

Of course, that estimate is only for the E area, phase 1. Once phase 2 and phase 3 are completed, the farmers point out, they will cover 500 hectares -- meaning that two crops of production totalling 500 hectares are lost, effectively 1000 hectares of production. Total soybean production in the area is only 2,497 hectares for all seasons.

That article says that some soybean farmers are arguing the project isn't about water at all, but about gravel. As the project plan makes clear (google "1.2 開發行為之內容" and see section 1.2), creation of the lakes, 12 meters deep, will necessitate the removal of millions of cubic of meters of gravel, a material in high demand in Taiwan, which whoever owns the land and sells the gravel can make an easy and quick profit off of. More need not be said....

ADDED: See good comment below arguing main issue is really tiny amount of water provided. I was really just curious to understand why such an obvious dog of a project was still being completed.
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Mike Fagan said...

"More need not be said...."

Actually, I would have thought the most damning aspect of the project is that the envisaged storage capacity for all five "lakes" taken together is a mere 6,500 cubic meters - which is just over a fifth that of Renyitan reservoir in Chiayi (almost 30,000 IIRC). For comparison, Tseng-wen reservoir has a designed capacity of nearly 700 million cubic meters. So in the scale of Kaohsiung's projected water conservation difficulties, this project would barely make any difference anyway.

The idea of siting reservoirs "off-source" in comparatively downstream locations isn't necessarily a bad idea per se (Renyitan is a good example of this done well) because it allows for better defenses against flooding and over-sedimentation, however, as I see it the major technical problem to building a reservoir in Kaohsiung is choosing a good location. The obvious sites are all along highway 20, which follows the course of the Kaoping's northernmost tributary; were a trough style reservoir (e.g. like Nanhua or Shihmen) to be built somewhere along this axis, the local aboriginal villages in Baoli and Taoyuan would effectively be cut off from the outside world. And then there are the problems with building massive, trough style reservoirs anyway in addition to having to locate one so far upstream that so much more additional expense would be incurred in the way of maintenance.

So if a new reservoir is going to be built in Kaohsiung at some point, then it will almost certainly have to be in a location similar to this one. The channel from Nanhua reservoir to the Kaoping river was completed years ago - the flush point is just across the river from pond E. So unless they build another underground diversion channel (this time from Tseng-wen all the way to the Kaoping) then there is no way they can get any more water out of Tainan's reservoirs and into Kaohsiung. So it's either this "Little Ponds" project, or nothing I would imagine.

Mike Fagan said...

My mistake - not 6,500 cubic meters. 65 million cubic meters! It's well after 2am.

Michael Turton said...

Yes, Tsengwen is already silting up and it overflows in the summer.

The really correct policy is not to build more reservoirs but to change the price of water to reflect its actual costs. People would then use less.

Mike Fagan said...

You vill change your behaviaar, or... you vill be shot!


To be fair, increases in price and increases in supply are not mutually exclusive; the government could allow both (or neither). But whilst a price increase might induce people to use less water whilst showering at home, a price increase for the rice farmers and for certain water intensive industries isn't going to go down well as many (not all) of these people already apply good water conservation measures (e.g. farmers keeping their own mini-reservoirs, large factories already trying to cut down on their major water use and recycle their minor water use). And the combined size of the five reservoirs, at 65 million m3 puts it at the high end of the lower capacity range, so my earlier comment about not making much difference to the supply problem is wrong. It would make a difference (assuming good design).

Over the long term, the correct policy might be to neither increase prices, nor supply; as the water shortages begin to worsen, the market incentives for better water filtration and recycling tech will presumably expand naturally. The tech already exists in embryonic form, it's just a question of paying for the costs of scaling up. It's somewhat similar to the problem the solar pv industry has.

Michael Turton said...

In the long-term, rice has to be moved away from, it releases fantastic amounts of methane and is water-greedy. Lots of changes in water behavior will have to be made....

Mike Fagan said...

With the switch to potatos, that'll be half of the Taiwanese diet abolished at a stroke. The future is British; the future is shepherd's pie.

les said...

As I recall, the project was first touted by a DPP figure, just don't remember now who it was. The idea was basically that selling the rights to extract the gravel would get the pits dug for free, and leave money in the bank for all the related infrastructure. The idea was that there would be no need for funds from the taxpayer.

No doubt DPP also has it's dirty relationship with the gravel trade, but at least in this instance money would not be flowing direct from the treasury into the pockets of this public enemy.

EyeDoc said...

Potatoes? We already have sweet potatoes - still not widely accepted because of the, ahem, gas-producing side-effects. The same goes for white potatoes. Plus, you'll need cultivars with high levels of heat-tolerance and disease resistance in order to farm them in Kaohsiung area.

The future is 旱稻, to be re-introduced since the native species have long been replaced by the water-hungry Japanese import, 蓬萊米.

Shepard's pie with rice cake may work out well.

Mike Fagan said...


It might also be the case that someone has their eye on buying up some of the surrounding land to build upmarket houses and apartments; having a series of "great lakes" to look out on as scenery might increase their value. But I don't really know - the location may be just a bit too far out in the sticks.

Yesterday, I went down there to have a look around and while I was at the water resources office, I was surprised to discover that the Kaoping lakes project is only one of four new reservoirs planned for south Taiwan, along with three new diversion channels and lots of new flood-check weirs. If each of these new projects is eventually built, then the future increase in potential water supply to Kaohsiung city will be considerable.