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Shihmen Reservoir — A Time Bomb Waiting to Explode

Man-made Natural Disaster

Chen Ru-dong, who frequently “patrols” the catchment areas, believes that the government's management efforts are short-term remedies targeted at symptoms rather than directed at the root causes of problems.

In fact, when torrential rains fall, landslides will occur no matter how remote or natural the area. Collapses will occur wherever there is heavy precipitation, meaning the government's role should be to mitigate disasters, the activist contends.

The source of disasters is humankind. Where there are people, there is life and consequently economic activity. This is evident in the area surrounding Shihmen Reservoir, where two main problems exist. One is agriculture, with peaches, bamboo and vegetables widely grown nearby. The other is tourism, which has encouraged the development of residential housing units and roads to attract visitors. Both phenomena are responsible for heavy water and soil erosion.

“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.”

Shielding Expertise from Political Interference

National Taiwan University's Hongey Chen also has strong words for the authorities. “The government is the initiator, first developing tourism and then promoting 'management' afterwards. Isn't this putting the cart before the horse?”

National Chung Hsing University's Yu, who is also a member of the Shihmen Reservoir task force, contends that passing a special budget to rehabilitate reservoirs is not necessary from either a social or economic perspective.

He believes the most important consideration is to return to fundamentals — limiting human encroachment in catchment areas and making sure government agencies shoulder their responsibilities. “Calling for a special budget only after something happens, that's a game that politicians play,” he argues, insisting that expertise cannot always be overshadowed by political interference.

From Shihmen to Tsengwen, Wushantou and Nanhua reservoirs, nearly NT$100 billion has been spent on water management and supply projects, but has that funding protected us any better or made us any safer?

NTNU's Wang's many years of participation in the Shihmen Reservoir project has only deepened his impression that as the climate and geological conditions change, the tug-of-war between man and the land will only grow more intense. The only sustainable solution, he believes, will be to require strict land use management and zoning.

“As long as there is no national land planning, all management will be done on a piecemeal basis, responding only to emergencies,” he concludes.

Translated from Chinese by Luke Sabatier

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1 Comment
December 19, 2011    josephnarimattom@
There are many dams across the globe which have functioned beyond their expected terms of life. A modern concrete dam has the life expectancy of only seventy five years. With increase in global seismic activity, many of these senile dams are likely to collapse, destroying life, property and nature downstream. Mullapperiyar in Kerala, India is such a reservoir bomb threatening the life of forty million people downstream. The two neighboring states in India are at war, one fighting to save its people from massive death and the other to ensure much needed water for its population.
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