Taiwan Rations Water as Drought Adds to Covid Woes

Taiwan’s government will further tighten water-saving measures in parts of the island, amid a persistent drought that’s raising concerns about supplies to heavily water-dependent computer chip factories.

Supplies to Taoyuan City and New Taipei City’s Linkou District will be curbed from May 21, the Water Resources Agency said in a statement, outlining further steps if dry weather persists. May is traditionally the start of the rainy season, but much of the island is parched.

The drought is causing headaches for farmers and factories, with some plants having to truck-in water, and households on some parts of the island are now being affected. It’s also posing another challenge to authorities as they try to rein in a major outbreak of Covid-19, which has shut all schools and led to an island-wide soft-lockdown.

Chipmaking giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., on which the world depends for many of the most advanced chips, said in a statement it will rely more on water trucks and try to save more of the resource, but that its operations shouldn’t be affected.

Science and technology parks that have independent water sources will also not be subject to supply cuts, the water agency said. Companies in the Hsinchu and Taichung parks will need to raise their water-savings rate to 17% from 15% currently, should supplies need to be tightened after June 1.

The weather bureau predicts Taiwan won’t have sizeable rainfall until the first half of June.

If there is less than 100 millimeters of rain in reservoir catchment areas by May 31, more steps will be taken. Supplies to the key tech city of Hsinchu will be limited to just five days a week from June 1, and there will be revolving cuts to districts in Miaoli, Taichung and Changhua.

Fu Jin-men, deputy director of the Hsinchu Science Park Bureau, said the higher water-savings requirement could mean more companies will need to rely on water trucks, but that overall operations should remain unaffected. National Development Council Minister Kung Ming-hsin yesterday said the island will continue to try to maintain supplies to the auto industry, which is suffering a chip crunch.

The drought is also adding stress to the energy grid, which has seen surging power demand from both chipmakers and from consumers, who are sweltering. A dual coal- and gas-fired plant went offline last Thursday due to a technical error, and consumers across the island on Monday got mobile phone alerts ahead of yet another round of rolling blackouts.

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