Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wasting Assets

It's not a great pic, but it was the best I could get of this lovely female wolf spider carrying a cache of eggs.

Ya gotta love Apple Daily. All the news going on in Taiwan, but Apple has its priorities straight: the front page had an article on four teenagers playing the local version of strip poker. It's good to know Apple Daily is keeping the barbarians at bay...

Speaking of holding the line, Commonwealth Magazine offers another great round of articles this week with pieces on salmon, our vanishing central Taiwan wetlands, and the Taiwan's dying dams...

Entering middle age, Shihmen Reservoir poses the highest level of risk of any in the country. Originally designed to hold a capacity of 300 million cubic meters of water, it has already accumulated 90 million cubic meters of silt, cutting its capacity by nearly a third. Also, the 123 sabo dams (used to trap silt and debris) built on the Dahan River upstream from the reservoir are completely full.

Even the Jung-hua Dam, considered the last straw in protecting the reservoir, is in a precarious state. Silt has accumulated as high as the dam's 82-meter wall, enough to bury a 28-story building. Hong-Yuan Lee, a river hydraulics specialist in National Taiwan University's Department of Civil Engineering, who has studied Shihmen Reservoir a number of times, warned that if the Jung-hua Dam breaks, 12 million tons of silt will rush into the reservoir area and further shorten its life span.

The problems that Taiwan has are caused by the island's construction-industrial state and its gross mismanagement of the island's land-water-biota relationship...

One-third of Nanhua Reservoir, which came on line in 1999, has been filled with silt in a mere 10 years, dealing a blow to the water supply in Tainan and Kaohsiung. Because of that, Taiwan's Legislature approved a six-year NT$54 billion project on April 20 to manage the Tsengwen, Nanhua and Wushantou reservoirs and stabilize southern Taiwan's water supply.

But some are skeptical that aging reservoirs can be kept alive simply through intensive management. Hongey Chen, a professor in National Taiwan University's Department of Geosciences, says disapprovingly that the only reason management measures are needed is because the reservoir's natural environment has been wiped out. Management methods are required to overcome the ills of over-development, setting off a vicious cycle.

The Baling Dam, destroyed by flooding in 2007.

The article notes, discussing overdevelopment for agriculture and tourism:
"The guesthouses there are almost all illegal. The problem is a management problem. Bamboo is grown in places where it's not allowed, private agricultural roads are opened where there shouldn't be any, and trout are raised in the middle of the river. The Taoyuan County government is unable to solve these problems," says Chen Ru-dong with mixed feelings. He sighs before adding, "The problem is not that there are no laws that can cope with the problem. It's that the situation is poorly managed."
In addition to the management problems, it should be noted that the government's eager willingness to supply subsidized water to agriculture, industry, and residential users means that demand is artificially stimulated. This in turn leads to demand for ever increasing amounts of water, which creates demand for more dams. The government is happy to supply dams since it allows the political parties to send money down to the local level to feed and water political patronage networks, a situation very similar to that in the American West prior to the 1980s.

During the Chen Administration the DPP did put forth a comprehensive national land management bill that aimed to do what was needed but of course the KMT-controlled legislature held it up, as it did with so many other initiatives, then under the Ma Administration turned it into just another program for spraying concrete across the countryside.

Taiwan is enter the phase of dam building that the US did around 1970, when most of the good spots were taken and those that were not taken cannot be used. Whether Taiwan will develop the political courage to transition out of its current construction-industrial state paradigm remains to be seen. But the other Commonwealth magazine article on the planned destruction of central Taiwan's last wetland for a totally unnecessary naptha cracker for making plastic is not encouraging:
It's not only that Taiwan's largest wetland is bound to vanish if the naphtha cracker project is realized. Lee Hong-yuan, professor at the Department of Civil Engineering at National Taiwan University and a harsh critic of the project, foresees a host of difficulties: Where is the huge amount of water that Kuo Kuang will need supposed to come from, given that the complex will be located in a land subsidence area that lacks water? And how is flooding to be prevented when the land subsides even further? How can the increasing salinization of the soil be addressed? And what is to be done about worsening erosion caused by sea water? These four questions expose the government's absurd policies on industrial development, water resource management and land use, as well as its coastal protection and agriculture policies, which seem to be suffering from scarcity themselves.


Second only to Pingdong County, Jhanghua County has the most severe land subsidence problem in all of Taiwan. In the most affected areas around Fangyuan and Dacheng, land sinking, resulting from excessive groundwater exploitation, can be as deep as an entire story. And land subsidence continues to spread inland. Due to the sinking of the coastal area over a long period, seawater has seeped in, so that the extracted groundwater is salty and the soil has starting to become salinated. Now not even peanuts grow there anymore. In Dacheng, whose economy used to rely heavily on agriculture, the acreage of abandoned farmland keeps growing and expanding further inland. The height of the town's jetties has to be constantly raised to make up for coastal subsidence.
Western Changhua suffers from severe water shortages, but the plan is to shove another water-intensive industrial plant there, a plant that will run on subsidized water, subsidized electricity, and subsidized oil. It would be kinder just to drop a nuke on the wetlands.

A satellite shot with map superimposed.

As I have argued before, as an economic agreement, ECFA is largely about preserving the status quo. But it should be clearly understood that the status quo is more than merely a group of globally known hi-tech firms with headquarters far away in the northern part of the island, makers like Giant and Merida that dominate their fields, and the SMEs that do contract manufacturing all over the island. Rather, it is a whole construction-industrial state paradigm that runs on cheap electricity and water and that has brought environmental ruin to a vast swath of the island's irreplaceable natural resources. What "analyses" like that of Rosen and Wang, now widely quoted in the establishment papers, completely miss is that ECFA's commitment to the current economy is essentially a commitment to the continued existence of the construction-industrial state, when what Taiwan needs is for the hamster to get off the wheel and find a way out of his developmentalist cage.
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Anonymous said...

Remember that Lee Hong-Yuan is the former vice-mayor of Taipei County that was brought down for having an affair with a hottie half-Aboriginal legislator.

Lee Hong-Yuan and his brother are KMT, and before that were PFP. Based on what I've heard him say, he definitely is a believer in deep-Blue ideology.

However, he is a water expert and is something of a conservationist and has been calling out loudly for pricing reform of water resources in Taiwan. In his tenure at Taipei County, he created large amounts of wetlands to treat sewage and helped to increase fines and inspections of factories and plants along rivers. It's a real cat and mouse game with plants often creating secret hidden pipes to hide their pollution.

His boss is well-known for his idiocy, but choosing Lee Hong-Yuan for his water expertise was all-in-all a pretty good thing.

D said...

So depressing. Makes ECFA feel like small potatoes, doesn't it?

That Commonwealth sure is good though. That article you talked about last week, on tax inequality, was great too. But also depressing.