Thursday, December 27, 2007

Dadu Weir Project Public Explanation Meeting Report

Taiwan Academy of Ecology protesting before the meeting over the diversion of water resources for industry, including private enterprises, by the water resources agencies and endangering the livelihoods of the Taiwanese people and the survival of the humpback dolphins.

Water resources official calls Dadu River without a dam “a waste”

On Thursday 20 December a meeting was held in the Town Hall of Hemei Township, Changhua County, to allow concerned parties to hear about why the Dadu River should be dammed and over a fifth of its water diverted for industrial use in Changbin Industrial Park and Yunlin Offshore Industrial Park. Repeat meetings were held that afternoon in Changbin Industrial Park Service Centre and the following morning in Dacheng Township.

The Dadu River (= Wu River) is the sixth largest river in Taiwan’s and a major source of fresh water for Taiwan’s west coast ecosystems. It feeds the Dadu Wetlands, which were previously listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as being one of Asia’s four major wetlands*. In addition, the Eastern Taiwan Strait (ETS) Humpback Dolphins (Sousa chinensis), which occur in the shallow coastal waters along the west coast of Taiwan from the Tongsiao River estuary in Miaoli County to Taisi in Yunlin County, have been sighted in the Dadu River estuary. Reduced freshwater flow into estuaries such as Dadu was identified at the 2nd ETS Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin workshop in September this year as being one of five major threats to the population. Any diversion or impoundment of rivers flowing out to the west coast could, therefore, increase the level of threat of extinction of the population.

At this stage of the planning process, what was presented to the public at the meetings on the 20th and 21st was what is called the “Dadu Weir Feasibility Plan.” Projects subject to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) are presented to the public and to official review bodies in various forms, including “feasibility plans” such as this, and “Environmental Statements” (ESs) such as those presented to the EPA’s EIA Review Commission. Although the system has the potential to allow all parties to be fully informed of the costs and benefits of a project, it is frequently the case that variation in the sets of documents prepared for review by (and made available to) different stakeholders means that the whole picture is never presented, thereby limiting public participation and the effectiveness of the review process.

On Thursday, in addition to presentations by representatives from Sinotech Engineering Consultants Ltd. and the Central Region Water Resources Office , a simple flier containing maps, photos and a basic explanation of the purpose and advantages of the project was provided to interested members of the public, along with a blank comment sheet. The Public Explanation Meeting and the comment sheet are formalities required by Taiwan’s EIA regulations. Comments provided by the public are supposed to be included in further reports and considered in the further planning stages.

The meeting began with a broad explanation of the project. This included technical aspects, financial costs, benefits to society, the project timescale, compensation for land acquisition, flood control, environmental impacts, funds for environmental enhancement, dust-reduction strategies and prevention of burst pipes. As is customary, vital details were missed out, but members of the audience supplemented much of what had been left out or prompted the presenters for more information.

According to Sinotech, preparatory work, construction and operation tests will span a period of six years from January 2009 to December 2014 and involve an estimated cost to the public of NTD 26.8 billion (USD 824 million). The project is designed to meet the future needs of central western Taiwan’s Changbin and Yunlin Industrial Parks. However, as pointed out by the head of the Central Region Water Resources Office Mr. Jiang Ming-lang (江明郎), it only seems as if the project is targeted towards providing for industry. In actual fact, he said, “if we can satisfy industrial water needs, industry will not need to extract ground water. If they don’t extract ground water, they won’t need to compete with the people [for water resources]. So in the end, although the recipient is industry and not the public, and although it looks like this has nothing to do with the public, industry will no longer need to extract groundwater and so the people will benefit and industry can continue to develop.”

However, as pointed out a member of the audience during the question and answer session, if the water is to be used to meet the expanding future needs of industry for greater water supplies, it will not replace an existing source of industrial water (e.g. ground water) but will rather constitute an additional source of industrial water, doing nothing to address the continuing conflict between water resource users.

Arguments that river impoundment will help mitigate water resource disputes, land subsidence and saltwater intrusion have been used to promote other projects such as the Hushan Dam in Yunlin County (currently under construction), which is also designed to supply water for further development of Yunlin Offshore Industrial Park and hence faces similar criticism. A major concern is that agriculture will lose out to industry as more water is channeled directly to the industrial parks, depleting groundwater resources and failing to produce the glowing win-win results consistently promised by proponents.

Concerns were also raised by members of the public about potential impacts of the river diversion on the Dadu Estuary Wildlife Refuge. Sinotech claimed that impacts on the Refuge have already been minimized by setting the route of the water pipes along the path of an existing road. Also, because the water level would be raised rather than water being directly extracted from the river as happens in some river diversion projects, impacts on the environment would be “minimized”.

However, a deeper concern of many in the audience was the impact of reduced freshwater flow to the estuary. If the plan goes ahead, an estimated daily volume of eight hundred thousand tons of water will be diverted for industrial use, with around six hundred thousand of that being piped south to Yunlin Offshore Industrial Park. The Sinotech speaker said that after extraction there would still be nearly three million tons per day of water flowing to the estuary, which was “a lot” and therefore the removal of eight hundred thousand tons of water per day would “not impact on downstream reaches”.

If Sinotech’s figures are taken to be correct, however, 8 hundred thousand tons makes up over a fifth of the river’s flow. Several members of the audience expressed concern that little or no explanation was being provided as to how the developers had come to the conclusion that the Refuge would not be negatively impacted by this substantial loss of fresh water input.

As for the ETS humpback dolphins, the developers steered clear of the issue in their presentations, and it was once again members of the Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union (MFCU) who raised it. Indeed, the message that resounded after the presentations was that delivered repeatedly and passionately by Mr. Jiang – that leaving the Dadu River without a dam (making it the only major river in the central region without one) would be a “waste”. Of course it is true that all that “extra” water could be flowing into a petrochemical factory or a steel plant to be heated up and contaminated, rather than directly to the sea. However, this overlooks the innumerable uses to which the plants and animals of the west coast are already putting that water - if the river is indeed incomplete without a dam, one wonders what the Dadu River estuary will be without its fish, birds and humpback dolphins.

Due to the efforts first of FormosaCetus and then other members of the Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union (MFCU), Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) proceedings started to include some consideration of the dolphins in 2005. Now, while the Environmental Statement (ESs) produced for some projects might not mention the existence of the population, participation by the MFCU in EIA meetings has led to subsequent versions of some ESs including a paragraph or two on what is known about the dolphins’ distribution. However, these ESs do not generally address the likely impacts on the population, nor do they include the dolphins in any monitoring plans or mitigation strategies.

* Taiwanese official documents claim that Dadu was listed by the IUCN as one of Asia's four major wetlands. We have asked the IUCN to confirm this but no response has been received to date.

Dadu Weir Public Explanation Meetings

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