1987 / 6月
Sunny Hsiao /photos courtesy of Arthur Jeng /tr. by Peter Eberly
Besides the plan itself, the public is even more concerned about the enormous cost of the project to clean up the Tamsui River and about the determination of the government to carry it out. To this end, Sinorama interviewed Premier Yu Kuo-hwa, president of the Executive Yuan, as well as the three top decision makers who are implementing the project: Shih Ch'un-jen, director-general of the Department of Health, Hsu Shui-teh, mayor of Taipei, and Ch'iu Ch'uang-huan, governor of Taipei Province.
The pollution problem of the Tamsui River system has been the subject of widespread public concern. Premier Yu Kuo-hwa, president of the Executive Yuan, also attaches great importance to this matter. After hearing "The Recovery Project of the Tamsui River Watershed Area," a plan drawn up by the Department of Health and presented at a meeting of the Executive Yuan at the end of April, Premier Yu raised six points, which he directed the responsible agencies to take note of, study, and carry out.
First, water pollution control is a task that admits of no short cuts. The Department of Health should have a comprehensive work plan, work methods, work steps, and work in progress and should keep the general public informed.
Second, the main sources of pollution of the water are domestic sewage from urban households, industrial waste water from factories, and refuse. If domestic sewage and industrial waste water can be prevented from flowing into the river, or can be treated before flowing in, and if refuse can be prevented from being dumped on the river banks or into the river, then the river will clean itself naturally. As a result, to ensure clean water in the Tamsui and Keelung rivers, an interception system or a sanitary sewerage system must be constructed along their banks; the quality standards for industrial waste water must be strictly controlled; and refuse must be appropriately treated. These tasks require huge expenditures as well as considerable amounts of time. Construction and engineering work takes even longer, as exemplified by the Taipei City sanitary sewerage system. So planning work must be carried out as quickly as possible first.
Third, it is hoped that work will be expeditiously carried out on the extension of the Taipei sanitary sewerage system to Sanchung and Luchou, on the sewage system on the upper reaches of Hsintien Creek, and on the municipal waste disposal project, which is one of the Fourteen Key Projects. A method of solving the industrial waste water problem should also be actively sought.
Fourth, an infrastructure for environmental protection entails enormous costs. The current cost of constructing the sanitary sewerage system, for example, is estimated by experts at around NT$15,000 per person. If the population of the Taipei municipal area in twenty years' time is calculated at five million, then NT$75 billion will required for the sanitary sewerage system alone, a huge figure. The Council for Economic Planning and Development has been requested, with regard to the public works and environmental engineering involved, to invite experts to research a financial system and a set of beneficiary charges appropriate for the implementation of the Tamsui/Keelung river pollution control plan.
Fifth, in addition to an infrastructure, management, and enforcement, education and guidance are also extremely important in environmental protection. The average person today is well off and keeps things neat inside the home, but outside he may litter and even dump refuse, which shows a lack of an environmental ethic. This is clearly an unethical and backward living habit. The government, which is making great efforts to carry out pollution control work on the Tamsui and Keelung rivers, also hopes that the entire populace of the Taipei municipal area will cherish and protect these two rivers: adding less pollution means better pollution control.
Sixth, to strengthen its environmental protection work, the government has decided to make the Bureau of Environmental Protection directly subordinate to the Executive Yuan. The Department of Health is requested to draft a reorganization plan for the bureau and report to the Yuan as quickly as possible so that legislative procedures can be completed at an early date after the Yuan has examined the plan.
Premier Yu also expressed his views toward this matter in an interview he granted to Sinorama in mid-May.
The premier stated that the Taiwan region has a prosperous society and a well-to-do way of life, but that owing to rapid economic growth, the increase of the population, and the swift spread of urbanization, the environmental protection measures and the related public infrastructure of the area have been hard put to remain adequate to the needs of the times. As a result, the same as in many countries, ecological and environmental problems have been produced; for example, the serious pollution of the Tamsui River, the Keelung River, and Tahan Creek of the Tamsui River system has adversely affected the environmental quality of the Taipei municipal area, giving rise to profound public attention. The government not only is concerned with but is also determined to control pollution in this river system, which has an impact on nearly one-fourth of the population of the Taiwan area, so that the cleanliness of the river's water quality can be recovered.
However, water pollution in rivers is completely different in nature from air and noise pollution. The former is a result accumulated over years and year; controlling it requires an appropriate and inclusive plan systematically and comprehensively carried out, and is not to be achieved in one step. Furthermore, each part of a single river system is interrelated, requiring the tracking of pollutants to their sources and integrated planning; the treatment cannot be piecemeal, or the work will be fruitless.
As to how to clean up the Tamsui River system, Premier Yu stated that his preliminary view is that the main sources of pollution of the Tamsui River system are pollution caused by urban domestic sewage, industrial waste water, and refuse dumped along the river banks. In addition, pig raisers on the upper reaches of the river system have also produced a considerable amount of pollution.
The method of controlling urban domestic sewage is to construct a modernized sewerage system that would collect sewage from buildings, transport it through sewage lines, treat it in treatment plants, and discharge it in a suitably selected location and which would prevent sewage that has not been treated appropriately from flowing into the river. This is an expensive and time-consuming task, but it is a fundamental and a necessary one.
Next, much practical work, including that on incinerators and sanitary burial sites, has already been started on the urban refuse treatment plan, which has been listed as one of the Fourteen Key Projects. This work fits in with the demands of the Tamsui River basin recovery project and should be carried out expeditiously.
The industrial waste water of the Taipei area is already subject to the control of environmental authorities, and livestock waste water, according to the discharge water quality standards recently announced, has also been placed under control. Polluters should bear the social costs for which they are responsible. In addition, after the Taipei area sewage system is completed, a great deal of industrial waste water may also be discharged through the system. So, several important projects related to controlling the pollution of the Tamsui river system are already actively under way. We hope that these projects can proceed together at the same time and in step in order that their total effect may be enhanced.
To ensure that proceeding at the same time not entail working at cross-purposes, many experts and scholars have hoped that an efficient joint-planning executive agency could coordinate and solve any problems that may arise during the course of the project.
Premier Yu also stated his views with respect to this point. He believes that the projects must be closely coordinated and methodically carried out; otherwise, should the pace be amiss, the overall goal will be difficult to attain. He stated that the Executive Yuan has directed that the Department of Health be responsible for setting up an organization to coordinate and supervise the projects; at the same time, he hopes that the environmental protection agency, after its forthcoming promotion to direct subordination to the Executive Yuan, can more forcefully and effectively fulfill the mission of promoting coordination. Should it meet with serious difficulties, it can still bring them up and request assistance from the advisory committee for sewerage system planning set up last August by the Executive Yuan.
(Sinorama editorial dept.)
SHIH CH'UN-JEN (director-general of the Department of Health):
In treating a "patient with a chronic disease," besides the medicine, the concern of the family is also important. . . .
Q: The Recovery Project of the Tamsui River Watershed Area that you proposed on April 30th calls for the river to become reoxygenated and stop smelling by 1991 and to reach normal constituent levels by 1995. How confident are you that this can be done?
A: Let me make an analogy first. The Tamsui River is like a sick man who's worked all his life making money for his family. Not until the family's well off and settled down do they realize they've been taking him for granted and that he's forfeited his health in the process.
In curing this kind of patient, a doctor's confidence depends as much on the cooperation and concern of the family as it does on his own medical skills.
The Tamsui has been sick a long time, and seriously. In the past, nobody paid much attention to it in the pursuit of economic prosperity. That President Chiang, Premier Yu, and the public in general are now extremely concerned about it and urgently hope it will recover is my greatest source of confidence.
Q: Plans to clean up the Tamsui have in fact been drawn up before, but they never amounted to anything. How is yours any different?
A: I think the most important difference now is that there's a determination at the policy-making level to implement this plan thoroughly and across-the-board.
The Tamsui basin covers sixteen districts in Taipei and 29 villages and townships, making the clean-up too big a job for the Department of Health alone. That's why, on the recommendation of the National Administrative Council held last June, the Executive Yuan created a special environmental task force to coordinate efforts among the various departments involved.
At the council, I chaired the discussion on the second core topic, which was "Environmental Pollution and Protection." At the time, we recommended concentrating initial efforts on the Keelung and Erhjen rivers, which are relatively small and would require comparatively little time and money to see results.
The public response to the plan was so great that the task force began to examine the Tamsui problem, and at the beginning of this year Premier Yu directed the Department of Health to draw up a Tamsui clean-up plan. The task force submitted its initial plan in April.
Q: That plan was said to have been "bounced back"--why? Did they have any recommendations?
A: The biggest problem was that the plan didn't set out any timetable for completion of the various tasks. I think this is important, too.
Q: What are the contents of the new plan? And what's the most urgent task on hand?
A: The new plan analyzes all the factors contributing to the pollution of the river and sets out the various steps needed to resolve the problem expeditiously.
The most pressing task at the moment is, of course, to prevent new sources of pollution. Besides this, statistics show that the greatest source of pollution of the Tamsui is human waste. To solve that problem, we plan to build a comprehensive sanitary sewerage system as well as an interception system along the banks of the river.
I'm confident that if we start now, we can raise the oxygenation level of the lower reaches of the Tamsui and stop it from smelling in eight to ten years' time.
Q: Premier Yu has pointed out the importance in this plan of educating and communicating with the public. As "chief physician," so to speak, what instructions would you want to give the "patient's family"?
A: As I just said, everyone's concern and support is the doctor's greatest source of confidence. But emotional concern is not enough; it needs to be accompanied by concrete action. I hope the public understands that cleaning up the Tamsui is not just the job of the government, but everyone's responsibility. We all live here and drink the water.
It's also important to understand that the Tamsui has a "chronic illness" that can't be cured in one quick operation. The eight-year plan I've proposed will simply "arrest the spread of disease"--later comes the "follow-up consultations" and the "rehabilitation work."
The British have been working on cleaning up the Thames for a century. It's a long-term project. We've still got a lot of work ahead of us.
(interview by Theresa Wang/ tr. by Peter Eberly)
HSU SHUI-TEH (mayor of Taipei):
If everybody pulls together, the Tamsui will have a hard time staying dirty even if it wants to!
Q: With regard to the Tamsui River clean-up project, Taipei City seems to be ahead of the provincial government in both funding and rate of progress. What's the situation at present?
A: Taipei City began planning reclamation of the Tamsui River in 1975. We've spent around NT$7.6 billion (about US$230 million) on construction of the sanitary sewerage system so far, and we expect to complete the system by 1990. However, we have no control over the Taipei County portion, which hasn't been worked on yet.
Q: Will the difference in rates of progress cause any friction between the city and provincial authorities?
A: Some people are worried that the city and the province will have communication problems.
Actually, we have many chances to communicate. Governor Ch'iu and I meet twice a week and regularly exchange ideas. So the communication of ideas is no problem. As to the actual work itself, the Council for Economic Planning and Development is responsible for ironing out any problems that may arise between the city and the province.
Q: Are there any advantages to the city and the province working together?
A: Although coordination takes some effort, there are advantages in working together. As everyone knows, property appropriation is one of the hardest jobs in the Tamsui plan. According to regulations, if Taiwan Province wants to appropriate a piece of property, all it needs is the approval of the provincial government. But Taipei City has to report to the Ministry of Interior, which then reports to the Executive Yuan, which in turn reports to the provincial government for approval--a complicated, time-consuming procedure.
Q: What's the biggest difficulty you've met with in carrying out the plan?
A: To be honest, it's funding.
Taipei City is required to bear NT$38.6 billion of the entire costs for the plan. Many people think that Taipei City has a lot of money, but I think that the national government needs to help. Why? Because the Tamsui River is not only a problem for Taipei but also concerns the national image--just as the clean-up of the Han River makes people think of the vitality of South Korea besides being a success for Seoul.
With assistance, we could speed up the rate of progress. The public has high demands, and we hope to finish before schedule, if possible.
Q: What's the point in finishing ahead of schedule?
A: Because the public demand is pressing!
Also, the sooner the system is completed, the more households can be connected up to it and the faster the water quality of the Tamsui will improve.
At the present rate of progress, 28 percent of the households in Taipei will be hooked up by the end of this year, and 45 percent by 1990. This represents a rather high proportion; the current figure for Japan is less than 36 percent.
The Tihua waste treatment plant can currently process 280,000 metric tons of waste water a day, but it won't be able to handle the growing volume in the future. So raising the capacity and quality of the Tihua plant is another urgent task.
Q: What exactly do "capacity" and "quality" refer to?
A: Capacity means installing more space-saving equipment to raise the volume of water processed at the plant. As to quality, the Taipei environmental protection authorities will institute a Tamsui River water pollution control system in 1991, and the Tihua plant must provide secondary treatment or higher for its water to meet the system's standards. Right now, the plant provides only primary treatment.
Q: Why does the Tihua plant meet only primary standards?
A: The standards demanded of the plant at the time it was designed were not as high as they are today. Also, it would have doubled the cost. Now, we're not only going to make the plant meet the secondary standards; we're also planning to bring it up to tertiary after that.
Q: It looks like the government really is determined to do a good job of it.
A: With the present technology and the level of concern and importance people attach to it, the government must do a good job.
But reclamation of the river is only the first step. The environment on the riverbanks is also of great importance. Urban planning should be undertaken to develop residential and recreation areas along the banks and add to the functions of the river.
Q: After the river's cleaned up, how will it be maintained?
A: That will require coordinated efforts.
Taipei City set up a Tamsui River patrol force in 1983, but its policing duties, which cover illegal construction and dumping of garbage, do not extend to water pollution. In the future, the city will set up a special agency to manage the river, and water pollution will be among its enforcement responsibilities. And the pig raisers and underground factories along the banks will be cracked down on.
All of this will require the cooperation of the public. I believe that if each of us demands as much of ourselves as we do of the government, then cleaning up the Tamsui River won't be difficult.
(interview by Sunny Hsiao/ tr. by Peter Eberly)
CH'IU CH'UANG-HUAN (governor of Taiwan Province):
We've got to work harder to catch up.
Q: What role do you play in the Tamsui River clean-up project? What is the focal point of your work?
A: Actually, the provincial government noticed the problem of pollution in the Tamsui River long ago but has lacked the funding to do what it wanted. Now that Premier Yu has given clear directions to get the job done, our obstacles have decreased.
The Department of Health is in charge of overall planning and coordination. Our principle task is cooperate in implementation. Our work is currently focused on planning and implementation of the sewerage system for the environs of Taipei City in Taiwan Province.
Q: This project will involve agencies of both Taipei City and Taipei Province. Will there be any conflicts?
A: Coordination between the two administrations is really no problem because our goal is the same; however, the pace may be different. Why? Because Taipei City has a more ample budget and can therefore work faster. That means we've got to work harder to catch up.
Q: Funding is a big problem for almost any project. How much will this one cost? Is the Taipei Province allocation adequate?
A: There's no way we could do it on the provincial budget alone, so the national government has given us a subsidy. The total cost is estimated at around NT$28 billion (about US$875 million), but this figure uses 1983 prices, so the cost will actually be higher.
Q: What is your greatest difficulty now that the funding has been solved?
A: To be honest, the key to how smoothly the engineering work goes is how much support and cooperation we get from the landowners and residents along the path of construction.
The engineering itself is not our biggest problem.
Q: So how are you going to get their support and cooperation ?
A: That will depend on coordination and communication. For example, we'll have to communicate with the local populace first and obtain their understanding before proceeding with our work. It will take a lot of "jawboning." And at the same time that we ask for the public's cooperation, we'll also have to leave them a road out.
Q: Besides this, what other difficulties are there?
A: Maintaining quality control has been of some concern, chiefly because of the open bidding system. That's because some companies may bid so low that there's really no profit to speak of and then try to do shoddy work and use inferior materials once they get the job. That would certainly affect the quality of construction, and the public would be the victims.
Because of this, some people propose adopting a "reasonable bid" system-that means selecting the bidder who comes closest to the estimated cost of the project. But in this case the low bidder would complain that the government and the contractor were "in cahoots" and so the system hasn't been implemented at present.
As a result, we hope that the more difficult construction work on the project will be given to the more reliable companies. For example, the provincial government has decided to allow the Retired Servicemen's Engineering Agency to construct the Nanhua reservoir for a negotiated price because the safety of the dam is critical.
Here I want to stress that saving money is important but the national interest and the people's safety is more so. We must all be public spirited, especially those engaged in construction, because the quality of the construction is a matter of life and death-there's no room for the slightest mistake.
Photo by Arthur Jeng
Source: Taiwan Province Housing and Urban Development Bureau
Interception System Plan
Photo by Arthur Jeng
Photo by Arthur Jeng
Photo by Chung Yung-ho
The day when the Tamsui River stops smelling and its banks become a place for lovers is not far off. (photo by Chiu Sheng-wang)
Photo by Arthur Jeng