Sunday, October 18, 2009

Leave the Future Some Clean Rivers, Please: Central Taiwan Science Park

Image from Wild at Heart

The Taiwan News had an interesting editorial on the problem of waste disposal from the Central Taiwan Science Park (CTSP), which sheds more light on how our developmentalist construction-industrial complex works. The editoral argues that the government should not start the environmental impact assessment for the expansion of the CTSP until there is a concrete plan to prevent the waste from being dumped in the Chuoshui River.
The greatest point of dispute concerns plans for the CTSP Erlin campus to discharge 100,000 tons per day of treated wastewater into nearby Chuoshui River's old or current channel for its "fourth phase expansion," which primarily refers the construction of an 11th generation TFT-LCD fabrication plant planned by Taiwan's AU Optronics.

While farmers and fish-farmers on both sides of the Chuoshui River are concerned about possible pollution from wastewater from the project, environmentalists are also concerned that the massive pumping of groundwater for the AUO plant will worsen the already grave problem of subsidence in the Erlin region and are worried that the additional inflow into the Chuoshui and its nearby delta will worsen conditions for the survival of the critically endangered Taiwan humpback dolphin.
Three problems are identified here. First, the wastewater itself polluting the river. Second, the effect of that wastewater on the dolphin habitat on the west coast. Third, the AUO plant will be pumping groundwater like there's no tomorrow, in an area where subsidence is already severe.

This scientific journal article on groundwater in the Choshui alluvial fan observes:
Among areas with geological hazard subsidence, the alluvial fan of the Choshui River has experienced serious problems of ground subsidence, in large extent due to soft ground features in the alluvial fan and a long history of groundwater over-pumpage. In certain areas of the region, the subsidence rate reaches as much as 14.3 cm/year (Liu and others 2000).
Subsidence is a severe problem in Taiwan, where uncontrolled pumping has lowered an area equal to about 16% of the western plain of the island. Only in Taipei, where groundwater pumping was forbidden in 1978 and the law enforced, has the problem been brought under control (ref).

Groundwater supplied about a third of the water in Taiwan in the 1990s, and the government began a long term monitoring program of the groundwater situation in the Choshui aquifer at that time. This paper from a few years ago describes the Choshui Alluvial Fan:
The Choshui River alluvial fan, the largest in Taiwan, is located at the west coast of central Taiwan. It is triangular in shape with the apex at Linnei and divided into north and south parts by Choshui river. The area of the fan is 1,800 km2. In the fan area, the overall water consumption is 3.1 billion m3, of which 0.9 billion m3 is from groundwater.... The groundwater basin is composed of three aquifers and two aquitards... Aquifer II is the most important water bearing formation of the fan area. Its large grain size suggests that it has high hydraulic conductivity. Aquifers I, II, and III probably pinch out in the Taiwan Strait.... The groundwater stored in the fan area is generally confined in nature throughout most of the area, except at the upper part near the apex of the fan....

The apex of the fan can be conserved for groundwater storage and the groundwater should be extracted out during the dry season only from the middle and fringes of the fan. From long-term monitoring, the groundwater level had gradually declined since 1960, but yet rebounded after 1990. Aquifer II has been over withdrawal all the time. The water table fluctuates by as much as 15 m during a given month and 5 m during a given day. The average amount of groundwater recharge is 1.024 billion m3/yr. According to the study of numerical modeling, the safe yield, which is equivalent to the natural recharge is estimated to be 0.818 billion m 3/yr.....
This paper says that in the southern part of the Choshui alluvial fan aquifer sea water began intruding back in the 1970s due to the already high levels of groundwater pumping, though the paper above says there is no sea water intrusion in the aquifers. It also gives a good description of the composition of the aquifer. It is clear that whether or not there is sea water in the groundwater at present, removing thousands of tons of water will invite sea water intrusion, and reduce water quality. In the southern part of the aquifer, in Yunlin, deterioration of groundwater has lead to a unique endemic disease, blackfoot disease, which occurs only in that area and appears to be related to arsenic levels in the groundwater.

But there is another effect of massive groundwater pumping: the threat to structures. This paper observes:
During 1992–2007, excessive pumping of groundwater caused large-scale aquifer-system compaction and land subsidence in the Choshui River Alluvial Fan, especially in the area of Yunlin county. The subsidence impedes surface-water runoff and endangers the operation of Taiwan High Speed Rail. Leveling, Global Positioning System (GPS), multi-level compaction monitoring well, and Differential Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (DInSAR) are used to study the extent of subsidence in Yunlin and its mechanism. These sensors complement each other in spatial and temporal resolutions. A leveling network totaling 434 km in length was deployed to derive subsidence at every 1.5 km along the routes, and the result is accurate to few mm and shows a basin-like subsidence pattern centering at Tuku Township.
In addition to the threat to the HSR, which crosses severely subsided areas all over southern Taiwan on its way south, "impedes surface water runoff" is polite language for "causes flooding when the water on the surface can't get out to sea." It was not a coincidence that the areas flooded by Morakot in Pingtung County, centered around Linbian, are places where groundwater depletion is severe. We do not get many typhoons here in central Taiwan, but they do arrive every few years. Increased pumping simply invites future flooding.

Taiwan News describes the current plan for the Central Taiwan Science Park (CTSP):
Late last month, Executive Yuan Secretary-General Lin Chung-sen told local news media that the Cabinet hoped the EIA [environmental impact statement] could be approved in October and thus allow the groundbreaking for the CTSP expansion to take place in November.

Speaking to reporters on Oct. 1, Premier Wu Den-yi told reporters that he had proposed after discussions that the 100,000 tons of waste water could instead be transferred directly for the use of the NT$400 billion Kuokuang Petrochemical complex, which is slated for construction in a planned industrial zone in adjacent Dacheng Township on the Changhua side of the Chuoshui River.

Wu stated that his proposal would ease the worries of farmers and fish farmers on both sides of the Chuoshui River (and presumably consumers as well) and said that the additional NT$2 billion cost would not be great compared to the benefit of adding production and employment from the CTSP expansion project.

Although a cross-ministerial meeting was held later to discuss the suggestion, Wu's proposal has not yet been officially included in the CTSP Erlin expansion plans or its EIA.

Moreover, the feasibility of the notion is open to question since the EIA for the petrochemical complex itself has yet to be approved.

In addition, the Kuokuang complex, which might yet be relocated to the Changpin Industrial Zone near Lukang, will at earliest enter production in 2015, leaving open the question of how to deal with the water problem in the three-year (or longer) interval.

The fact that Wu's proposed solution was not even discussed in yesterday's meeting will unavoidably give rise to questions as to how seriously his administration takes his declared concern for "ordinary people's economics."

A demonstration by over six hundred farmers from Changhua and Yunlin Counties along with environmentalists in Taipei noisily protested the plans at the Environmental Protection Administration's Taipei headquarters was unable to prevent a EIA subcommittee from recommending "conditional approval" to the final review for the fourth phase expansion of the CTSP Erlin campus for rubber-stamping by the full EIA commission later this month in line with the Cabinet's demand.

The EIA subcommittee did require that the CTSP construct a special pipeline and discharge the water either in the Chuoshui delta or further out to sea, but this resolution does not address the most serious problems in the CTSP expansion since the EIA subcommittee did not specify which of the two possible locations for the wastewater should be used.
The EIA subcommittee proposed either dumping it in the delta, affecting fish both directly and secondarily through ingestion of poisoned species, such as plankton, or out to sea. The kicker?
Incredibly, the EIA committee agreed to allow the CTSP management itself decide which option to follow, a decision which is an out and out prescription for the selection of the lowest cost and most environmentally harmful alternative.
Wild at Heart noted of the plan to dump the wastewater into Choshui, where it will water the market gardens of Hsiluo county, one of Taiwan's most important vegetable production areas, is that the stuff that will actually be discharged is completely unknown:
“The chemicals listed in the developers’ documents as being prohibited or controlled include a lot of agricultural chemicals, not the types of chemicals used in the electronics industry,” says Hsieh. “The developers should list the names and volumes of chemicals to be used and discharged. If, during the environmental impact assessment process, we don’t even know what kinds of chemical substances will be used, what potential impacts can possibly be assessed?”
Wild at Heart also blogged on another issue involving water and the CTSP: a diversion to meet the parks future water needs. To wit:
The Taan River-Tachia River Combined Use Water Transport Project (大安大甲溪水源聯合運用輸水工程計) aims to divert 1.5 million tons of water per day from the Tachia River in Taichung County, ostensibly to meet the predicted public water needs of the greater Taichung area. The water will be diverted northwards into a water treatment plant and an irrigation channel in Houli, Taichung, and across the Tachia River to a second treatment plant at the Liyutan (artificial) Reservoir in Miaoli County, via a series of tunnels and pipes. Construction is expected to take four years.

At the meeting on 26 August, lawyer Thomas Jhan (詹順貴) of the Primordial Law Firm (元貞聯合法律事務所 ) in Taipei, who acted on the EIA committee from 2005 to 2007, referred to the Tsengwen Interbasin Tranfer (IBT) Project in Chiayi County, southern Taiwan, which is believed may have been at least partly responsible for the deadly mudslide that buried Shiaolin Village a month ago, a matter currently under investigation. With one mouth of the tunnel of the Taan/Tachia IBT being situated only two hundred metres upstream of the Shihkang Dam, which breached during the magnitude 7.6 earthquake that occurred on 21 September 1999, and with around ten known geological faults and sheer zones within the project area, Jhan said the Taan-Tachia River project appeared to be even more dangerous than the Tsengwen project.
A few days the NY Times had a feature on the new Japanese government's attempt to derail the developmentalist express in Japan, where local governments and economies depend on state spending on infrastructure construction. Virtually every river in Japan is dammed, gargantuan concrete edifices may be found in the smallest village, and the government is up to its ears in debt. That future where the government struggles to right the errors of the past is one possibility for Taiwan.

But in the meantime, we are stuck with a government that simply ignores calls for rational treatment of wastewater.

UPDATE: Oct 25 protest needs you!

REF: Taiwan Review piece on land planning, my blogpost on the wreck of the Shigang Dam, this 2008 piece on river dust from a local environmental blog, this post on EIA and dolphins
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Anonymous said...

For the purposes of this article, the term "sustainability" will refer to the government's ability to not lose money, while at the same time maintain cover ups through goverment-controlled media of egregious violations of anti- polluting laws, which will lead to increased (and under-reported) increases in cancers, until such time as the KMT will sell us all out to China.

Michael Turton said...

Yes, clever of them to stick China with the useless real estate once it has been polluted into sterility

James Chen said...

Informative blog post! Thanks for posting it, and thanks also for the link to my movie review!

SY said...

1. In March next year, the KMT government plans to start creating a petro industrial "park" in Dacheng (大城), a neighboring township west of Erlin (roughly, the costal area facing the word "Habitat" on your map). It is named "Nation's Light" Petro Industrial Park ("國光石化工業區").

2. For the required water supply and waste disposition, the KMT government has alotted NT$ 33 billions (about one billion US$) to build a water diversion weir in the Dadu river (in the northern area on your map) and the required network of pipes and pumps, which covers exactly the area of your map.

3. The area is Taiwan's heartland for vegetables and fruits. The two biggest produce wholesale markets, Hsihu (溪湖) and Hsiluo (西螺) are located in the area. Hsihu, a town famous for quality produce and particularly for Kyoho Grape ("巨峰葡萄"), is the east neighboring township of Erlin.

4. The planned coastal area is sinking by 3-15 centimeters a year.

Some people seem to plan on an action on Oct 25, 2009. Please see

5. Agree with you, Michael, that KMT will suck and squeeze Taiwan until it's a dirty dry pulp before dumping it to China. That's why most KMT bigwigs have a non-Chinese foreign residency.

Recently, I can't help but feel that Taiwan is done for in many ways.

NOTE: I place a big question mark on the alloted NT$ 33 billions in terms of what the allotment is based on. Many "projects" of Ma & Gang have been given billions of cash just to turn out to be either a waste (read: grab) of money or failure. Another Maokong style failure in the (large scale) waste disposition project will be not only a budgetary failure but, most importantly, also an environmental disaster.

Michael Turton said...

Yes SY, I agree. We're basically done for. Unless the people suddenly wake up.

Thanks for the info. I had forgotten to put a link to the protest. Unfortunately I have a prior commitment.


Anonymous said...

Erlin's local government is also notorious for being entirely operated by an organized crime family that is loyal to the KMT. In prior surveys it has been ranked the most corrupt township in Taiwan. Erlin and the KMT are not so strange bedfellows after all.

les said...

Well, KMT wouldn't be the first declining power to escape a colony in this way. Let's see, white-elephant projects designed to empty the coffers into the pockets of cohorts, against deep environmental and fiscal concerns.
Sounds the British strategy of lining it's pockets with cash building Chep Lap Kok and leaving the treasury empty for the incoming Chinese regime.

Anonymous said...

If you have any news on this issue, it would be greatly, greatly appreciated if you could follow up. This is crazy. How can they spend so much money for someone's factory?