Friday, July 23, 2010

Hushan Dam to be completed in 2014

Security check point at the entrance to the Hushan Reservoir project site. Deforested hills are visible in the back ground.

Today's Taipei Times tells us that Hushan Reservoir will be completed in 2014. According to the brief article that appears in today's Taipei Times "the construction of the Hushan Reservoir in Yunlin County is scheduled to be completed in 2014 after environmental issues have been resolved." The article goes on to state that, "The reservoir, designed for joint operation with the Jiji Diversion Weir on Jhuoshuei River, will be able to supply 694,000 tonnes of water per day for public, industrial and household use in the Yunlin region,... The project will improve the quantity and quality of domestic water supply in the region,... At present, residents of the area rely heavily on groundwater, it said, adding that the Hushan reservoir project would help prevent land subsidence resulting from groundwater extraction."

At face value it sounds as if the Hushan Reservoir project is the solution to Yunlin County's water problems. However, a very different picture emerges when you take a closer look.

A major cause of the need for residents of the area to have to rely so heavily on the pumping groundwater that ultimately leads to land subsidence problems is because of the over exploitation of the county's water resources by heavy industry. Supposedly, the Hushan Reservoir will correct this. However, when questions are asked as to how much of the project's water is to be allocated to domestic usage and how much is being allocated to industrial usage it soon becomes apparent that Hushan isn't quite what the authorities want you to believe. Figures exceeding even 80% for industrial usage become apparent. And this water isn't to alleviate the current problem but rather to meet the water needs of planned expansion of heavy pollution- generating industry. Industry that will drastically increase Taiwan's carbon emissions at a time when we should be reducing them. The highly controversial Kuokuang Petrochemical Park development alone will result in at least a 7% increase in Taiwan's carbon emissions not to mention the pollution problems it will cause and the destruction of critically important habitat for the critically endangered Taiwan pink dolphins.

In October 2007, despite previous assurances by the Yunlin County based Formosa Plastics Group that they would keep their water usage to a level not exceeding 257,000 tonnes/day, the applied to increase it to 351,000 tonnes/day. When Formosa Plastics committed to 257,000 tonnes/day this commitment was backed by a pledge from the chairman of Formosa Plastics who said they would shut down operations to the extent necessary to meet their commitment to keep water use down. (see More water for Formosa means less for Taiwan) In 2009 the Formosa Plastics Group was awarded the infamous Black Planet Award for its horrendous global environmental track record.

The construction of Hushan Dam has destroyed much of the most important breeding area for the globally threatened Fairy Pitta. The Fairy Pitta wasn't even mentioned in the original environmental impact assessment. The green light for the project was given under extremely dubious legality in 2007 when the Environmental Protection Administration minister told developers that the decision by the EPA's own environmental impact assessment commission was non-binding. The EIA commission had found that work on the project was illegal and should immediately be halted. The legality of the Hushan Reservoir Project still remains before the courts.

The article concludes saying that the Water Resources agency said it had assembled a team of conservationists that, together with Council of Agriculture officials, would conduct studies on forest and river ecology systems in the areas near the reservoir..." and that the agency "would focus on plant and animal conservation, the creation of new habitats and raising environmental awareness."

Again this sounds good but how are we to trust an agency that omitted to even mention the globally threatened Fairy Pitta in its original assessment? The Hushan project has been anything but transparent. What assurances are there of independent study? Many so called "independent" environmental groups in Taiwan are largely headed by academics and others employed by state-owned institutions and organisations. Such people are unlikely to challenge the the state because of fear of jeopardizing their careers within state-run organisations. Many so called NGOs are dependant on state funds or handouts from the very corporations they should be "confronting." (see The 2007 International Symposium for the Fairy Pitta)

Just how will the Hushan Dam Project be perceived by future generations that inherit the problems resulting from run-away heavy industrial development on Taiwan's west coast. Will it stand as a shining example of development? Or will it stand as an everlasting example of the failure of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration to fulfil its mandate which resulted in horrendous environmental destruction and horrific pollution problems? Will Hushan's epitaph be glorious or will it be the extinction of the Taiwan pink dolphins and other species like the Fairy Pitta? Will it be even higher cancer rates in an area that is already seven times the national average? Will the long term health costs and toxic landscape justify the short term financial gains for a few elite business executes? With all the mess we're leaving for our youth and just the next generation, I think the authors of Hushan, Kuokuang and all those other greedy projects will be remembered right up there in a category amongst slave traders and all the other scum of humanity's greedy past.

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