The EPA has reached its twentieth year in its efforts to include public participation in water environment patrols. An event was organized to celebrate this anniversary and thank all the volunteers who patrol and safeguard every water environment in Taiwan. Everyone was invited to document the results of improvements in water environments as well as to look back and share notable examples of patrol team involvement in notifications of pollution incidents, ecological restoration, environmental education, and assistance in implementing the policy of reutilizing wastewater from livestock farming.
Aiming to maintain the quality of water bodies and ameliorate river pollution, the EPA designated 2002 as River Pollution Remediation Year, putting together patrol teams to target rivers nationwide for remediation. Coordinating government efforts and the involvement of caring citizens, since then patrol teams have voluntarily engaged in patrols, notifications, water quality monitoring, river and bank clean-ups, environmental education, and at-source reduction of domestic wastewater. This civil force that safeguards the environment began with 25 patrol teams when the initiative was first carried out in 2002 and has grown to 468 teams today. Currently, there are 13,382 crew members across Taiwan, protecting the rivers and streams in their respective areas. Based on statistics from the last decade, volunteers, on average, conducted 74 patrols a day, and an incident of pollution or a littered site was reported for every nine patrols. On average, every day there were at least five beach or riverbank clean-ups, resulting in collecting 357 kg of garbage and 138 kg of recyclables a day.
During the last 20 years, water environment patrols have ameliorated river pollution and taken part in several commendable accomplishments. For instance, Erren River in Tainan was notorious for its severe pollution from scrap metals and wastes. Following the EPA’s vigorous measures that led to the dismantling of 57 illegal smelters, local patrol teams have remained vigilant and helped to gradually lower illegal wastewater discharges. Owing to civilian river watch groups continually on the alert for the dumping of waste scrap metals along riverbanks, after discussions between the public and private sectors, various government agencies then collaborated on joint clean-ups. Over 278,000 metric tons of waste scrap metals were removed from riverbanks between 2006 and 2013. Furthermore, local patrols have chosen certain areas for ecological restoration. For example, previously only a handful of fish species able to withstand pollution could be found in the Erren River estuary, but now it has over 30 fish species and 20 shrimp and crab species. This is a fine model of collaboration between the public and private sectors.
Incorporating environmental education into activities, instilling environmental protection awareness
The patrol teams have also incorporated environmental education into their activities, instilling an awareness of water quality protection in primary-level pupils and every household. Schools of different levels have joined the patrol efforts, such as a beach clean-up organization consisting of students from Hsinchu Waldorf Experimental School, along with their parents. Since 2015 they have striven to protect the coastal environment in Hsinchu with many beach clean-ups. Other activities include exploring coastal ecosystems, picking and analyzing beach waste, and using garbage in creative art projects. This type of mobile environmental education, with coasts as a classroom, has motivated more families and schools to join them.
Volunteering for the patrol is a big help in implementing government policy
Moreover, people volunteering for patrols have also been a big help in implementing government policy. For example, deeply troubled by occasional pollution and odors in ditches caused by pig excrement, patrol teams in central and southern Taiwan monitored for improper discharges of livestock wastewater by conducting regular surveillance and water quality testing. Following the EPA’s policy to reutilize livestock wastewater, since 2018, volunteers, assisted by environmental agencies, have used their local networks to match livestock farmers who can supply digestate to farmers in need of agricultural fertilizers. The patrol teams also monitor the application of fertilizers to ensure that digestate made from pig excrement is used properly on farmland instead of entering rivers and polluting water bodies.
For the last 20 years, the EPA has launched river patrols to put a stop to pollution, combining the energy of communities, organizations, and schools and turning them into protectors in every corner. Public participation has also largely altered people’s environmental awareness. The Director of the EPA’s Department of Water Quality Protection, Su-Ming Yen, noted that in the past, polluters engaging in illegal dumping and discharging, when stopped, would retort by saying their activities were not of anyone else’s concern as the environment belonged to no one. But nowadays, patrol teams nationwide have formed a tight network of protection, and people can confidently stop polluters by asking them not to destroy the environment as it is a public good.
Director Su-Ming Yen (third from the right) and the invited representatives of water environment patrols
Excerpt from Major Environmental Policies, September 2022
- Ministry of Environment