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Taming the groundwater in rural Asia: The biopolitics of constructing groundwater‐scape

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In this paper, we leverage on a case study about the governance of groundwater and the hazard of land subsidence in Yunlin, Taiwan, to address the state's political strategies of producing ‘hydro‐social territories’. Our goal is to examine how local agents and their knowledge of the socio‐technological system shape groundwater use, with particular attention on how that system has changed due to the governmentalized regulation of groundwater resources as a means to mitigate land subsidence. Drawing from the local agrarian development and its tube well irrigation networks that underlie the groundwater‐scape in this research, the paper demonstrates that the ‘hydro‐social territory’ itself is complicated, as local farmers who rely on groundwater are never fully controlled by the state, regardless of whether or not they use groundwater for agricultural cultivation or other purposes, yet at the same time, the intention of governmentalizing the local groundwater regime is concealed and has become more concrete with the introduction of new sciences and technologies.
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Taming the groundwater in rural Asia:
The biopolitics of constructing
groundwater-scape
Q1Kuan-Chi
Q2
Wang,
1
Chun-Yi Ho
2
and Chih-Yuan Chen
3
1
Research Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan
2
Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan
3
The Department of Geography, Chinese Culture University, Taipei, Taiwan
Correspondence: Chun-Yi Ho (email: d99544006@ntu.edu.tw)
In this paper, we leverage on a case study about the governance of groundwater and the hazard
of land subsidence in Yunlin, Taiwan, to address the states political strategies of producing
hydro-social territories. Our goal is to examine how local agents and their knowledge of the
socio-technological system shape groundwater use, with particular attention on how that system
has changed due to the governmentalized regulation of groundwater resources as a means to miti-
gate land subsidence. Drawing from the local agrarian development and its tube well irrigation
networks that underlie the groundwater-scape in this research, the paper demonstrates that the
hydro-social territoryitself is complicated, as local farmers who rely on groundwater are never
fully controlled by the state, regardless of whether or not they use groundwater for agricultural
cultivation or other purposes, yet at the same time, the intention of governmentalizing the local
groundwater regime is concealed and has become more concrete with the introduction of new sci-
ences and technologies.
Keywords: Asia, groundwater governance, hydro-social territory, land subsidence, rural
development
Accepted: 2 December 2020
Introduction
Groundwater is the water present beneath the surface of the earth in the fractures of
rock formationsa crucial resource in areas of dry land, where people rely on tube
wells as the main infrastructure to extract water from the underground and circulate it
for irrigation and daily use. The appropriation of groundwater requires not only sys-
tematic formal planning to construct the groundwater infrastructure but also an infor-
mal social-ecological system to maintain it. Despite the signicance of groundwater,
however, very few researchers have focused on metabolic processes that underlie rural
developments and bring about profound changes to local peoples livelihoods
(Mustafa & Qazi, 2007; Sizek, 2018). This study focuses on Yunlin County, Taiwan
because it is a region facing potential environmental hazards due to land subsidence, a
gradual settling or sudden sinking of the Earths surface owing to subsurface move-
ment of earth materialsnotably the overuse of groundwater is one of the major cau-
ses. In a region whereby 100 000 unregistered tube wells are located, Yunlin is
experiencing the most serious land subsidence crisis in Taiwan, ranking rst in both
total area and average rate of subsidence (National Cheng Kung University (NCKU)
Research and Development Foundation, 2009; WRA, 2016a).
1
On a global scale, the
land subsidence crisis in Yunlin is even more serious than in northern China (Wang
et al., 2009), the U.S.-Mexican border area (Kasperson et al., 1995), and northern India
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49 Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography (2021)
© 2021 Department of Geography, National University of Singapore and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd
doi:10.1111/sjtg.12358
Journal Code Article ID Dispatch: 02-FEB-21 CE: No
SJTG 12358 No. of Pages: 24 ME: No
(Mukherji, 2006). Land subsidence has jeopardized the land use system in the area.
Consequently, the damage caused by land subsidence is likely to profoundly affect the
developmental trajectory of western Taiwan. As Figures
F
1 and
F
2 demonstrate, the land
subsidence area overlaps with the waterscape of tube wells and rice crops.
Currently, Taiwans government is committed to solving the problem of groundwa-
ter overuse and, in turn, the crisis of land subsidence. It has developed short-,
medium-, and long-term plans to invest about USD 1.5 billion in initiatives such as
closing tube wells, letting agricultural elds lie fallow, and building a dam
(CEPD, 2011). However, as the government has attempted to regulate groundwater
withdrawal in order to prevent further land subsidence in the area, disputes over the
de facto right to groundwater use have arisen between the government and local vil-
lagers. In order to conveniently and efciently tap groundwater, local people in Yunlin
have created private small-scale water and agricultural technologies, such as modied
tube wells, and engaged in agricultural modernization. These water technologies are
constructed according to specic socio-political-ecological-technical congurations that
are embedded in local knowledge and carried out by individual agents as they adapt to
environmental changes. In this paper, we leverage on a case study of the governance
of groundwater and the hazard of land subsidence in Taiwan to address the states
strategies of producing hydro-social territories, a conceptual framework developed in
political ecology to draw attention to water resource governance (Boelens et al., 2016;
Loftus, 2018). Our goal is to examine how local agents and their knowledge of the
socio-technological system has shaped groundwater use, with particular focus on how
that system has changed due to efforts of governmentalizing groundwater resources as
Figure
Color Figure - Print and Online
1. The scope of land subsidence.
Source: Figure produced by authors. Data acquired from DATA.GOV.TW (https://data.gov.tw/
dataset/58361).
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a means to mitigate land subsidence. In order to do so, we ask the following questions:
(i) How has groundwater governance affected farmerslivelihoods and the socio-
environmental dynamics at play, and (ii) How has the waterscape of groundwater
played a part in shaping and reshaping the metabolic processes of groundwater?
In the following section, we offer a review of relevant literature to explain our con-
ceptual framework. We then present the mixed methods approach applied in this case
study. Following the methodology section, we provide the historical context of rural
development in Yunlin, Taiwan and the governance of groundwater resources. Focus-
ing on the groundwater-scape of Yunlin, we discuss the politics of changing patterns of
access to groundwater, supported by data from geographic information system (GIS)
mapping, interviews, and eld observations. We outline three major policiesthe Let
Fields Lie Fallow policy, the Grain for Green policy, and the Golden Corridor policy
that illustrate the role of Taiwan government in the governance of groundwater and
land resources, and how the groundwater regime has governmentalized local farmers
livelihoods and the socio-environmental dynamics. In the conclusion, we summarize
our ndings in response to the research questions highlighted at the beginning of
this paper.
Coupling nature and human: territorializing groundwater and the making of
hydro-social landscapes
Scholars have generally agreed that land subsidence is closely related to the over-
exploitation of groundwater, as exemplied by experiences in India, rural areas in
northern China, and urban areas in southern China (Shah et al., 2004; Mukherji, 2006;
Wang et al., 2006; Wang et al., 2009). Research on groundwater resources and land
Figure
Color Figure - Print and Online
2. The scope of tube wells and rice crops.
Source: Figure produced by authors. Rice data acquired from Taiwan Agricultural Yearbook.
Tube well data acquired from NCKU Research and Development Foundation (2009).
The biopolitics of constructing groundwater-scape 3
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subsidence have gradually captured scholarsattention (Velis et al. 2017); however,
much of this scholarship has been conducted in the hard sciences, using physics and
modelling to predict trends of land subsidence hazards. In their hydrologic modelling,
studies narrowly dene groundwater resources as a variable. Recent developments in
research on groundwater have drawn on the coupled human-nature system
(CHANS) approach (OConnell & ODonnell, 2014; Srinivasan, 2013), which focuses
on the linkagesthe reciprocal interactions and feedbackbetween human and natu-
ral systems that emerge within-scale and cross-scale (Liu et al., 2007).
Yet the spatial scale dened by CHANS applies mainly to biological habitats. In
order to extend beyond the physical environment to better understand the complexity
of human and natural interactions, this study suggests that perspectives from political
ecology can contribute more to the understanding of the power dynamics of ground-
water regimes.
Political ecology scholars working on topics related to water resources have focused
on the metabolic processes of water, alongside the capitalistic construction of
waterscapes (Bakker, 2004; Swyngedouw, 2004, 2015; King et al. 2019). In this con-
text, the geography of metabolism plays a critical role, as the geographies of production
and circulation of water at multiple scales create the perception of permanencies
(or thing-like moments) (Harvey, 1996). The idea of waterscape in political ecology
expands the denition of scale in the literature. The approach reminds us that tensions
over the management of water resources emerge when the state and the market seek
to produce categories of metabolism in which people were forced to change the inertia
that characterizes waterscapes across scales (Bakker, 2004; Swyngedouw, 2004, 2015;
Budds, 2013; King et al., 2019). The concept of permanency,orinertia, does not
refer to a kind of stasis in the construction of waterscapes; rather, it asserts the deli-
miting role of waterscapes as multiple actors shape the scalar processes of water circu-
lation and access. To this extent, water and its related landscape provide a lens through
which to interpret the conict between the use of natural resources and environmental
changes (Walker & Fortmann, 2003; Mitchell, 2005; Friess & Jazeel, 2017).
Furthermore, scholars from a broadly dened political ecology approach have exam-
ined how statist claims to and constructions of political space shape the sense of natu-
ralnessthrough diverse political-cultural interpretations (Scott, 2017; Loftus, 2018;
Koch & Perreault, 2019). James Scotts (1998) Seeing Like a State is recognized as the
seminal literature in political ecology addressing states’‘territorial strategies of simpli-
cation(Loftus, 2018). In his work, Scott criticizes high modernismthe hegemony of
the modern state to change both social and natural landscapes in a way that makes
socionature legible. According to Scott (1998), state-led high-modern projects to
arrangenatural resources have failed, less because of the limited efcacy of building
such mega-projects and more so because local societies have taken a very different view
of their environment than the state. However, territorial strategies of simplicationare
always contingent, in that, the goal of the simplication of states and the knowledge
and technologies used for ruling are more or less subject to change (Braun, 2000;
Whitehead, 2009; also see Bridge, 2014). In other words, despite the fact that the state
possesses an imagination, and even proactively wields hegemonic discourse to govern
the legible object, we should not assume that there is a kind of universal knowledge
(Latour, 1987: 216) for water governance and the political construction of landscapes
(Robbins, 2001: 6546).
Taken further, the growing inuence of post-structuralism on a variety of topics
regarding humanenvironment interactions in recent decades (Turner, 2015), has also
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shaped water governance. In this view, water policymaking and its implementation are
considered to be contested and negotiated processes, performed through a network of
actors at different scales (Mollinga, 2008; Lopez-Gunn, 2009). An important part of this
process of water governance is the production and construction of hydro-social terri-
tories (Boelens et al., 2016). In order to conceptualize hydro-social territories, Boelens
et al. (2016: 6) draw on Foucault to argue that waterscapes, as spaces and territories,
are objects and aims of government: the processes that governmentalizedterritory,
and so produce space with new or reinforced hierarchical relationships between water
governors and subject water actors and actants. In other words, power over the new
territorial congurations is not limited to a narrow denition of the state but embedded
in a diversity of actors and institutions that commonly harness technological, industrial,
administrative, and scientic-knowledge networks to govern space and people
(Agrawal, 2005; Hommes et al., 2019). In addition, hydro-social territorialization is the
process of subjecticationin everyday politics (Hommes et al., 2019), which legiti-
mizescertain forms of water knowledge, norms of governance, and organizations, and
illegitimizesothers. In this sense, to be a subject governed by a groundwater resource
regime does not merely refer to the possession and use of economic capital, such as
receiving compensation arising out of the closure of illegaltube wells. Rather, it indi-
cates at a way of relating to ones livelihoods under groundwater governance: the
institution of a dominion over life(Casarina & Negri, 2008: 148). That being said, con-
structing a groundwater-scape is foremost an ethical matter for certain categories of
people to acquire a certain kind of status in using groundwater.
As this literature suggests, and our analysis further reveals, understanding ground-
water governance and the construction of its landscape as based on socio-ecological
politics, along with both quantitative and qualitative methods, provides opportunities
to critically re-examine the power-laden characteristics of hydro-social regimes and
networks of groundwater. The groundwater regime realized through the construction
of groundwater-scape is synonymous with what James Ferguson (1994) coined the
anti-politics machinefor development, which exhibits a startling ignorance of
Yunlins historical and political realities. Meanwhile, reecting on Don Mitchells (2005)
insights on landscape, in this article we demonstrate that, the groundwater-scape is not
only the workof hydro-planners, but as something that does workacting as a
socio-ecological agent in the further development of groundwater regimes.
Through the empirical case study of Yunlin, we argue that groundwater
technologies, including tube wells, electronic grids, and rural public transportation
systems, have been at the core of the metabolic irrigation network supporting rural
development in central Taiwan. While the government has taken different approaches
in its governance of groundwater resourcesfrom the developmental state toward a
less interventionist stateits primary goal has been to seek legibilityof the object to
be governed (Scott, 1998). Meanwhile, our ndings also suggest that a kind of bio-
politics regarding groundwater and land subsidence governance has gradually emerged
in rural Taiwan.
Methods
We applied a mixed methods approach in this study, as researchers have gradually rec-
ognized the utility of applying both quantitative and qualitative data to the analysis of
land use (Robbins, 2003) and social justice issues related to critical geography
(Kwan, 2004). To accomplish this, we conducted seven rounds of semi-structured
The biopolitics of constructing groundwater-scape 5
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interviews and observations from 201117, as well as a two-hour focus group inter-
view in 2011, all within Yunlin County. We interviewed 43 people, including
30 farmers, two large-scale farmers, two tube well drillers, one pump merchant, three
local community planners, two ofcers from the agricultural department, one ofcial
from the irrigation association, one groundwater specialist, and a manager of a fruit
and vegetable market (See Table T1 for details of the individuals we interviewed). We
examined the linkages between environmental knowledge and politics, investigating
how the Taiwanese state has framed political economy and ecological dynamics in
order to govern local villagers. We also assessed how local villagers have reframed
these policies in adapting to the land subsidence hazard and its governance structure.
In the meantime, in order to visualize the groundwater-scape and its spatial articu-
lation with the land subsidence hazard, as well as its impact on local farmersliveli-
hoods, we collected quantitative data on agriculture from the Taiwan Agriculture
Yearbook for the period between 1958 and 2016, and the Statistical Yearbook of Yunlin
County for the period between 1990 and 2016. The data on the number of tube wells
were mainly taken from a report published by the Water Resource Agency (WRA). For
each township in Yunlin County, we collected data on planted areas of rice crops from
the Council of Agriculture (COA). The COA carried out an eight-year project to survey
agricultural land, establishing an agricultural land cover dataset from 2008 to 2015.
The data on the yields and planted areas of rice crops were generated using multiple
remote-sensing sources, including satellite images, radar images, and aerial photos,
alongside eld investigations (Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute, 2015).
From the Taiwan governments open data-sharing platform (Data.gov.tw), we also
gathered data on the land subsidence accumulation in Yunlin from 1992 to 2016, pub-
lished by the WRA and the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), in order to analyze
spatially referenced data. The WRA has been producing a series of annual reports on
land subsidence in western Taiwan, including Yunlin, which include subsidence data
generated using different approaches. These include: (1) leveling surveys, (2) high-
precision continuous GPS station, (3) radar interferometry, and (4) land subsidence
monitoring wells.
2
Data on the number of tube wells were collected from the WRA
(NCKU Research and Development Foundation, 2009). Data on WRA reports were
retrieved from tube well investigations for several projects, mostly operated by the
Research Centre for Soil and Water Resources and Natural Disaster Prevention
(RCSWRNDP), National Yunlin University of Science and Technology from 2000 to
2007 (NCKU Research and Development Foundation, 2009).
Appropriating groundwater for development
In 1951, in order to facilitate rural industrialization and related policies, Taiwans gov-
ernment dened groundwater as a natural resource (The Provincial Gazette of
Taiwan, 1951). Later, in order to address the declining production of manufacturing
and agriculture, Taiwans government realigned the legal usage of land and water in
rural areas, shifted farmland to industrial use, and constructed integrated infrastructure
in rural areas. These policies successfully encouraged small and medium manufacturing
plants and other industries to establish themselves in rural Taiwan (Ho, 1979). In the
1970s and 1980s, the policy helped to improve rice production (Figure F3) and vegeta-
ble cultivation (Figure F4). Due to declining agricultural exports, the Taiwanese govern-
ment introduced vegetables as the new agrarian economy. A large proportion of
vegetable crops were also destined for urban markets, which required additional
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Table 1. Interviewee details
Age Area Date interviewed Description
Fruit and vegetable
distribution
centre ofcial
About 60 Xilou Township 21 October 2011
Yunlin County
ofcial
ND Yunlin County 9 February 2018 We communicated
through e-mail
Community
planner 1
About 60 Lunbei Township 20 October 2011
Community
planner 2
About 60 Tuku Township 29 November 2011
Farmer 1 56 Xilou Township 15 August 2017 He is a full-time
farmer growing
vegetable and rice.
Farmer 2 About 60 Tuku Township 29 November 2011 He participated in the
focus group for
this study,
organized by a
community
planner.
Farmer 3 65 Tuku Township 29 November 2011 She participated in
the focus group for
this study,
organized by a
community
planner.
Farmer 4 About 40 Douliu City 25 July 2017 He is a full-time
custom-farming
labourer and part-
time rice farmer.
He also hires
custom-farming
labourers to
operate his
machinery.
Farmer 5 About 45 Yuanchang
County
29 November 2017 He is a full-time
farmer growing
cash crops. We
interviewed him in
the Tuku
Township.
Farmer 6 49 Xilou Township 26 August 2017
7 September 2017
He is a full-time
farmer growing
vegetables.
Farmer 7 76 Tuku Township 30 July 2012 He is a full-time
farmer growing
rice and peanuts.
Farmer 7 and
farmer 8 are
relatives.
Farmer 8 48 Tuku Township 30 July 2012
Farmer 9 61 Erlun Township 10 September 2017 He used to be a full-
time farmer
growing
watermelon. Now
(Continues)
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industrial processing. As a result, small factories agglomerated in Yunlin to process veg-
etable crops (Fruit and vegetable distribution centre ofcial, pers. comm., Xilou Town-
ship, 21 October 2010).
Since the 1970s, the states agricultural policy to encourage rice and vegetable culti-
vation has increased the consumption of water. Moreover, the governments water
policy has not only facilitated groundwater exploitation in Yunlin, but also encouraged
a water-intensive cropping industry. However, the distribution of groundwater is quite
uneven. Community planner 1 in Lunbei Township told us:
Getting irrigation water is difcult. Due to the irrigation system, the water did not come here
consistently. Our village is near the shui wei(the tail-end of the water); therefore, very few
people living around here use the surface water (Community planner 1, pers. comm, Lunbei
Township, 20 October 2011).
In order to improve productivity, some Yunlin farmers have become more willing
to invest in farming instruments, and investing in the tube well has become a priority,
as tapping groundwater grants farmers more autonomy to control the water for irriga-
tion. By using tube wells (and groundwater resources), farmers are no longer con-
trolled by Irrigation Associations, institutes which used to be part of the self-
governance organization of farmers controlling irrigation water, but became part of Tai-
wans central government in 2020. Further, tube wells facilitate the supply of ground-
water year-round, allowing farmers to grow high-value crops, such as vegetables in the
winter when irrigation water is normally in short supply (Ke, 2011). Meanwhile, in
some places in Yunlin, vegetable farmers grow their crops around irrigation canals,
Table 1. Continued
Age Area Date interviewed Description
he is a part-time
farmer growing
rice.
During the interview,
he was
accompanied by
his neighbours
(also farmers).
Farmer 10 31 Tuku Township 3 August 2012 He and his father run
agricultural elds
and nursery
grounds together.
Farmer 11 About 50 Kouhu Township 22 August 2017 He is a full-time
farmer growing
melon. Also, he is
a researcher of
local history.
Tube well driller 44 Putzi City, Chiayi
County
10 December 2016
Hydrogeologist About 30 National Taiwan
University
19 July 2012 He has participated
in the
Groundwater
Monitoring Plan
initiative.
Source: Authorseld research.
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increasing the elevation of nearby elds due to extra soil that must be added. That, in
turn, prohibits farmers from accessing the irrigation systems on lower ground and
deepens farmersreliance on pumping groundwater (Farmer 1, pers. comm., Xilou
Township, 15 August 2017) (Figure F5).
During this rural industrialization period driven by the developmental state, the
governance of groundwater in Taiwan is based on the Water Act, which indicates that
water is a natural resource owned by the state and its ownership is separate from land
ownership(Article 2). Because water tenure is state regulated, people who want to
use or prot from groundwater must acquire water rights(Article 15) or rights to
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Total area Phase I Phase II
Figure
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3. Rice cropping area (ha) in Yunlin (19582016).
Source: Taiwan Agricultural Yearbook. The relevant data for the following time- periods are
missing: phase I & II (195557), and phase I & II (1974).
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4. Vegetable cropping area (ha) in Yunlin (19582016).
Source: Taiwan Agricultural Yearbook. The relevant data for the following time-periods are
missing: 195557, 1974, 195557, 1964, 1974 and 1982.
The biopolitics of constructing groundwater-scape 9
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water.
3
In the case of Yunlin County, 17 out of the 20 administrative areas are ground-
water control areas, including areas experiencing the most severe land subsidence:
Tuku Township, Huwei Township, and Yuanchang Township (WRA, 2018). The Water
Act also regulates the qualications and rights related to drilling tube wells, the process
of applying for water rights, the amount of groundwater to be drafted, and the rules
for monitoring water usage. However, owing to weak regulation, the scarcity of sur-
face/irrigation water, the reasonable cost of drafting, and the abundant groundwater
supply in the area, the Water Act has never been fully implemented, despite there
being about 100 000 tube wells in Yunlin (NCKU Research and Development
Foundation, 2009).
Until now, the WRA has not fully recorded the exact number of tube wells or the
amount of groundwater harvested in Yunlin. Our eldwork and interviews in Yunlin
revealed that drilling one tube well (about 3060 m in depth and 6 inches in diameter)
with a submergible motor pump costs approximately USD 1350 to USD 2400. The elec-
tricity to run the pump costs USD 39 per month for a 0.1-acre eld. Although the
average life of a tube well is about 710 years (Chen, 2005), local farmers always try to
extend the life of their wells for as long as possible. When the well is nearing the end
of its life, local farmers are more inclined to replace the motor rather than to dig a new
well. By spending more on the submergible motor pump solely, farmers are able to
decrease lifetime costs of the well.
However, drafting groundwater requires a network that combines skillful labour,
technology, a groundwater resource, and an electricity infrastructure. In western Tai-
wan, rural industrialization and conventions of groundwater use have produced an
integrated network of professional drillers and local specialists who possess the specic
skills necessary for drilling tube wells. Drillers learn how to dig and construct two main
types of tube wells: one that is less than 10 m deep and well-equipped with a borehole
pump (surface pumping motor), and a deeper well that is equipped with a submergible
motor pump. Besides drillers, the tube well network also consists of the groundwater
Figure
Color Figure - Print and Online
5. The unraisedrice eld (left) and the raisedvegetable eld (right).
Source: Photo taken by Chun-Yi Ho.
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resource; the motor engine and its producers and suppliers; electrical equipment and
engineers; and ironsmiths who are responsible for the drilling machine (Figure F6).
Despite this established infrastructure, during the rural industrialization period, the use
of groundwater was not part of the states environmental regulation, despite evidence
of land subsidence. In the next section, we begin by tracing the political initiatives of
governing land subsidence and groundwater resources; following that, we conduct
analysis of three contemporary policies: The Let Fields Lie Fallow policy, the Grain for
Green policy, and the Golden Corridor policy.
Governmentalizing the groundwater regime
From the late 2000s to 2016, land subsidence in inland Yunlin declined rapidly.
4
Three
political initiatives were launched during this period of time: the Let Fields Lie Fallow
Figure
Color Figure - Print and Online
6. A drilling machine made by a local ironsmith.
Source: Photo taken by Chun-Yi Ho.
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policy, the Grain for Green policy, and the Golden Corridor policy. Before discussing
these policies, it is important to provide background on Taiwan governments interven-
tion in the context of managing groundwater, as well as the land subsidence hazard.
The Taiwanese government confronted a dilemma when it acknowledged the
declining groundwater levels in western Taiwan in the 1970s (Ground Water Develop-
ment Bureau, 1973). The political strategies to governing groundwater is in line with
the idea of safe yield, referring to the balance of groundwater circulation calculated
by the state. A safeyield is dened as the extent to which the amount of groundwater
used will not contribute to a hazard, such as land subsidence (Chen, 2005). Accord-
ingly, enforcing the right to water has commonly been a political strategy for Taiwan to
regulate groundwater use (MOEA, 2008; NDC, 2014).
At the same time, however, the government initially had very little knowledge of
groundwater with which to initiate a groundwater policy to confront land subsidence
(COA, 1986; Fei et al., 2003; Chiang et al., 2007). The research method for calculating
the number of tube wells was based on the assumption that the wells motor is
powered by electricity. According to this method, an investigator who follows a wiring
diagram can nd the utility pole that provides electricity to the motor of the well
pump. After checking the meter number, the investigator records the GPS location of
the well. The investigator also checks the type and horsepower of the pump, as well as
the diameter and depth of the tube well. However, because the investigator cannot see
the pump (if the owner uses a submergible motor pump or because of the depth of the
well), investigators must ask the farmer for this information (Hydrogeologist, pers.
comm., National Taiwan University, 19 July 2012; RCSWRNDP, 2003). Hence, the goal
of the Taiwanese government has been to develop a comprehensive understanding of
groundwater resources, including the hydrological circulation and spatial data of
groundwater replenishment (COA, 1986; Chen, 2005).
A more recent strategy employed to address the land subsidence hazard (and
groundwater overuse) has been the Groundwater Monitoring Network (GMN). Since
1992, the government (mainly the WRA) has systematically built the GMN and
supported the long-term hydrogeological survey of groundwater (CEPD, 2011; Hydro-
tech Research Institute, National Taiwan University, 2012). As groundwater has
become the subject of survey, the ofcial discourse on groundwater policies has been
reframed through the scientic discourse related to (land subsidence) hazard and other
socio-economic crises.
There are two intricate implications of the GMN: rst, it is actually a leap for the
state to solidify the enforcement of the right to water by incorporating groundwater
into the regulatory structure. The database of the GMN is similar to the booking sys-
temin nancing, used as the technology for calculating groundwater (Chen, 2005).
Through this system, not only has the body of groundwater become more visible, but
the mathematical number it generates can be used for more complicated calculations
in order to predict groundwater use trends.
Second, the GMN collects geographical information of the locations to discern
where hazards are happening. Some of this geographical data has become an important
research resource for groundwater policy-making (e.g., providing evidence of a high
correlation between groundwater use and agriculture on the local scale, and between
the range of land subsidence and location of tube wells, also see Ding et al. (2014)),
particularly The Golden Corridor policy. Crucially, the scientic discourse based on the
GMN data is a limited lens through which the state comprehends hazards, and it imple-
ments policy according to its calculation to governmentalize farmers. The three policies
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that we illustrate below are strategies that Taiwan government has employed to
achieve the safe yieldin response to land subsidence. The three policies demonstrate
that the territorial logic of land use for different economic sectors is key to addressing
the hazard, for which the governmentalization of the spatial-temporary structure of
water useis prioritized in policy-making.
5
Let Fields Lie Fallow
After Taiwan joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2002, the government
needed to comply with the WTO food quota system regulation. Therefore, the govern-
ment began to enforce the Let Fields Lie Fallow policy, legislation that had been in
place since the late 1990s, to promote rice imports and suppress local production. Later,
the Taiwan government reframed the policy in the context of mitigating land subsi-
dence with the goal of regulating groundwater use while minimizing rice production in
the Yunlin area. The Lie Fallow allowances provided USD 130150/ha, which farmers
should regard as signicant money given that the average prot from rice cropping is
less than USD 130/ha (Community planner 2, pers. comm., Tuku Township,
29 November 2011). However, many farmers have rejected the allowances and contin-
ued cropping, despite apparent economic benets. One interviewee said the reason for
that was that Allowance is good, but rehabilitation is hard work if I will still crop here
in the future(Farmer 2, pers. comm., Tuku Township, 29 November 2011). In another
interview, a local farmer also remarked that if she let her eld lie fallow, she would risk
not only her own farmland, but also the neighbouring eld being invaded by weeds
and insects (Farmer 3, pers. comm., Tuku Township, 29 November 2011).
Although rice production did decline during this period, rice cropping continued in
some areas like Tuku Township (Figure F7). We interviewed farmers in Tuku (a critical
area of persistent land subsidence at a rate of 7.1 cm/year in 2015, WRA, 2016b) about
why they persevered with rice cropping and intensively withdrew groundwater. We dis-
covered that, from the 1960s to the 1980s, farmers in Tuku had switched from rice
cropping to asparagus cropping for export (Community planner 2, pers. comm., Tuku
Township, 29 November 2011; Huang & Chen, 2011a, 2011b). However, in the 1990s,
Taiwans asparagus exports decreased, and the cropping area declined accordingly
(Huang & Chen, 2011a, 2011b). When the asparagus industry suffered, farmers returned
to paddy rice, as they had decades of familiarity with rice cropping and little interest in
learning how to grow new crops. The continuity of growing rice demonstrates how the
inertia of landscape is practised through the metabolism of groundwater.
The farmers also considered rice cropping to be less labour-intensive than other
crops. In July 2017, we interviewed a machine driver and followed his work. The
driveralso a rice farmergot his machine from his father and hired a helper (cus-
tom-farming labour). As the driver explained, with the cultivation machines, the
farmers did not have to do the work themselves. They simply had to call the driver,
open the tube well, and pay him money(Farmer 4, pers. comm., Douliu City, 25 July
2017). Two cultivation machines are required for rice cultivation: After the machine
plow is nished, the land plane levels the eld (Figure F8). Farmers who request a culti-
vation machine must ll their eld with water for a few days. The driver also told us
that other rice cropping work, such as transplanting and harvesting, can also be mecha-
nized. By contrast, crops such as asparagus cannot be harvested by machine (Farmer
5, pers. comm., Tuku Township, 25 July 2017). Farmers also conrmed that they did
not use machines for the planting and harvesting of vegetables (Farmer 6, pers. comm.,
Xilou Township, 26 August 2017).
The biopolitics of constructing groundwater-scape 13
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The story of the rice farmers in Tuku demonstrates that the farmers refused to have
their elds lie fallow not simply because of a rational choice, but because of the aging
labour economic structure in rural Taiwan.
6
As farmers get older, they are less able to
adopt labour-intensive work or shift toward growing other cash crops. Consequently,
these farmers have continued to grow paddy rice, despite the fact that it requires a
large amount of groundwater for irrigation.
The Grain for Green
Alongside the Let Fields Lie Fallow policy, the Grain for Green policy was utilized to
manage the use of groundwater and address land subsidence from 2011 to 2012. The
policy targeted agriculture in Yunlin, particularly in the region suffering land subsi-
dence. The plan was to help farmers replace cropping with tree growth for the next
20 years by compensating them with USD 125 000 and free tree seedlings for every
hectare of land. The goal was to achieve 2600 ha of afforestationthe same area as the
No. 6 Naphtha Cracking Project of the Formosa Petrochemical Corporation (FPC)
(Yunlin County, n.d.). To encourage farmers to turn private farmland into forestland,
the policy made use of funds from the Forest Bureau, COA (USD 72 007) and the FPC
(USD 39 004). Yet, the policy was suspended by the Forest Bureau, COA on 1 January
2013. From 201415, the afforestation effort in the agricultural subsidence area was
renewed by the Golden Corridor policy of COA (which will be discussed extensively
later), for which the FPC continued to subsidize.
Figure
Color Figure - Print and Online
7. Rice planting area in Huwei, Tuku, Baozhong and Yuanchang Townships.
Source: Figure produced by authors. Rice data acquired from Taiwan Agricultural Yearbook.
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To date, the afforestation policy has made only modest progress. According to the
Forest Bureau, the total area of afforestation in 2014 was 1104.65 ha, only 42 per cent
of the goal (Tsai et al., 2014). FPCsnancial support for the Golden Corridor policy was
also suspended because of the lack of afforestation applications. The Golden Corridor
policys afforestation effort was suspended on 16 December 2015 (Yunlin County ofcial,
pers. comm., Yunlin County, 9 February 2018; COA, 2015). When the research team
was in Tuku in 2017, we barely saw forestland around the villages affected by severe
land subsidence.
7
Although the farmers would like to change their farmland to forest-
land, they refuse to close their tube wells as a condition. In fact, they reject the ofcial
claim that land subsidence has been caused by their use of groundwater via tube wells.
The farmers argued that they had been using groundwater in that way (via tube wells)
for decades, and land subsidence had never been an issue (Farmer 7, pers. comm., Tuku
Township, 30 July 2012; Farmer 8, pers. comm., Tuku Township, 30 July 2012).
Farmers also complained that they should not be held responsible for the loss of
groundwater and land subsidence. In September 2017, the research team traveled to a
small village in Erlun Township in Yunlin and saw the huge construction of the Taiwan
High-Speed Rail System (THSR) nearby. We asked farmers about the causes of land
subsidence. They reported that, after construction of the THSR started, the groundwa-
ter table dropped severely. Therefore, these farmers construed the THSRs pile founda-
tion construction as the cause of groundwater disappearance (Farmer 9, pers. comm.,
Erlun Township, 10 September 2017; the farmer was accompanied by other farmers
during the interview).
8
One of them said he had replaced his borehole pump with sub-
mergible motor pumps since the THSRs construction. A farmer in Tuku also refuted
Figure
Color Figure - Print and Online
8. Cultivation machines.
Source: Photo taken by Chun-Yi Ho.
The biopolitics of constructing groundwater-scape 15
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the argument that the over-pumping of groundwater was the main cause of land subsi-
dence, saying:
Our barns wall is leaking. Maybe it is related to land subsidence. But it is normal. The soil in Tuku
can compress easily. Any heavy things put on here will cause the land to sink. They [the govern-
ment] should have been aware of that before they put such a huge construction project (THSR)
hereof course the land is sinking (Farmer 10, pers. comm., Tuku Township, 3 August 2012).
Accordingly, this nding aligns with political ecology studies on de- and reforestation
(Robbins et al. 2015; Robbins, 2020), suggesting that the forces that encourage small-
holders to maintain or erode resource landscapes (e.g., water, forest, or the combina-
tion of both) are linked to the security of farmland tenure, diversity of producer
livelihoods, institutional arrangements, and national policies.
The Golden Corridor
The Golden Corridor policy is the most recent environmental regulation implemented
to address land subsidence in Yunlin by regulating groundwater use. The THSR began
operating in Yunlin County in 2007. But, in just two years, the land subsidence crisis
in Yunlin signicantly affected the stability of the high-speed rail system.
9
In order to
stop land subsidence around the high-speed rail system, the COA began constructing a
corridorof drought-resistant crops in 2013 (including trees before 16 December
2015) along the rail line. The delimited space of the new corridor spans 1.5 km on
either side of the rail line (Figure F9) (COA, 2013). The priority of this policy is to
reduce the number of tube wells in the region. As previously discussed, geographical
information underlies the delineation of the corridor, and policymaking has mainly
Figure
Color Figure - Print and Online
9. Golden Agricultural Corridorarea.
Source: Figure produced by authors. Rice crop data adapted from TARI (https://farmcloud.tari.
gov.tw/SOA/index.asp).
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been based on research that draws on data from the GMN. In the meantime, the state
has expanded the Water Act by adding Articles 936granting policing inspectors the
right to inspect water infrastructure and land without having to give notice.
In effect, these inspections violate local peoples conventions for groundwater use.
Farmers and tube well drillers do not dare to drill new tube wells in the daytime at the
risk of attracting strict local government inspection. Rather, they now drill the tube
wells at night (Tube well drillers, pers. comm., Chiayi County, 10 December 2016;
UDN News, 2014). Consequently, the effort to transform rice crops into water-saving
agricultural endeavours has been far from successful.
Although the aim of the governments regulations has been to change the ways in
which villagers use groundwater, the discourse surrounding these regulations has
tended to attribute local villagersappropriation of groundwater as a kind of abuse
that has caused land subsidence. Without placing too much emphasis on the punish-
ment for opening new wells, the government has allocated QR code stickers to local
people (see Figure F10) for them to put on the wells. This way, ofcials who represent
the government can manage the wells by scanning the QR code and building the
GMN. Farmers owning documented tube wells are allowed to have temporary legal
rights to groundwater; but the government will close undocumented wells upon dis-
covery. In addition, the GMN has provided greater evidence indicating that farmers
and agriculture might be the main causes of land subsidence. Ding et al. (2014), for
example, used GMN data to argue that the rate of decline of land subsidence was much
faster in the dry season of rice agriculture, which implies that rice agricultures use of
groundwater was the main cause of land subsidence.
Conclusion
In western Taiwan, groundwater logging has been commonplace for decades. The gov-
ernments regulation of groundwater uses only began seriously once land subsidence
Figure
Color Figure - Print and Online
10. The QR code on the tube wells for documenting purposes.
Source: Photo taken by Chun-Yi Ho.
The biopolitics of constructing groundwater-scape 17
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emerged in western Taiwan and began to undermine the functioning of Taiwans high-
speed rail service. The rail system escalated the land subsidence crisis and challenged
existing patterns of groundwater use. The Let Fields Lie Fallow, Grain for Green, and
Golden Corridor policies constitute the three main political initiatives designed to solve
environmental hazards associated with land subsidence and the overuse of groundwa-
ter resource; however, in the process, the government ignored local peoples endow-
ments, capabilities, and entitlements that are historically, culturally, politically, and
economically constituted. At the time of writing this article, Taiwan government has
further strengthened its control over the groundwater by implementing a new certica-
tion system for governing tube wells, based on the information derived from its long-
term monitoring since the 1990s. Now, new tube wells in Yunlin are prohibited in
almost all cases, and existing tube wells must be documented. The latest report on land
subsidence measurements demonstrates that the greatest subsidence rate in Yunlin was
still around 6.7 cm in 2017 and 6.6 cm in 2018 (Central News Agency, 2019).
The groundwater-scape desired by the Taiwan government is an attempt to mod-
ernize the landscape and groundwater use patterns in Yunlin. To put it in James Sco-
tts (1998) words, seen through the eyes of the state, groundwater is a kind of
economic resource that inhabits an abstract category of knowledge. By contrast, local
people in Yunlin see groundwater as a variegated, mixed, and exible resource that is
inextricable from the complex of groundwater metabolic networks. In other words,
demonstrating the plasticity(Sturgeon, 2007) of the landscape. As a result of this fun-
damental conict between state and local society, recent investigations have shown
that land subsidence is continuing, if not worsening, in Yunlin (WRA, 2016a).
Although government intervention affected local peoples groundwater use patterns
and landscape, farmers and other local actors have also continued to perform and prac-
tice their own way of accessing groundwater resources for agricultural purposes. Local
farmers and actors have adapted to these socio-environmental changes by creating an
agrarian-groundwater-technology complex, as we have explained in this paper. How-
ever, the state has been steadily trying to make the landscape legible through a more
governmentalized strategy.
We organized our ndings in Table T2. Despite being spatially and temporally over-
lapping, the three policies we highlighted in this study individually represent patterns of
governing groundwater-scapes. The Let Fields Lie Fallow policy represents the neo-
liberal groundwater-scape, in which the state attempted to govern groundwater use in
order to mitigate land subsidence following WTO regulations that require governments
to provide compensation for the reduction of rice production. However, farmers refused
to accept this compensation. The rural culture of small-farm agriculture in co-managing
the rice elds, along with agricultural technologies, led aged farmers to continue growing
rice in areas affected by land subsidence. The Grain for Green policy represents the fail-
ure of constructing groundwater-scape by growing trees. The effort of reforestation,
which is somewhat synonymous with what Scott (1998) coined as the hegemony of
seeing like a state, failed largely because the farmersinterpretation of land subsidence
differed from that of the Taiwan government. Finally, the Golden Corridor policy repre-
sents the governmentalized groundwater-scape, through which the Taiwan govern-
ment used its bio-political power of governmentality to build and utilize the GMN to
manage groundwater use. To a certain extent, local villagers in the land subsidence area
of Yunlin recognized the GMNs censorship and management of groundwater use.
The story of territorializing groundwater-scape in Yunlin, Taiwan might shed light
on agricultural development and groundwater use in other parts of the world. The idea
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of groundwater-scape and the mixed methods approach applied in this paper contrib-
utes to recent scholarly efforts to maintain the openness of the political ecology
approach in addressing human-environment interactions. Indeed, this article paid more
attention to answering empirical questions regarding the role of the state in governing
groundwater and its landscape in Yunlin. Drawing from the rice economy and its tube
well irrigation networks that underlie the groundwater-scape in this research, we nd
that the local rice farmer who relies on groundwater is never fully controlled by the
state, regardless of whether he or she uses groundwater for rice cultivation or other
purposes. Yet, at the same time, the intention of governmentalizing the local is
concealed and has become more concrete with the introduction of new sciences and
technologies. That being said, the territorial strategies of states are more or less marked
by the heterogeneity of both human and nonhuman actors in the biopolitics of
governing groundwater landscapes.
Acknowledgements
We are grateful for the support extended by folks in Yunlin in the past nine years during the
period of conducting this research. Insightful comments from anonymous reviewers and the edi-
tors of the SJTG have helped to polish this article. As the co-founders of the NGO: Taiwan Water
Table 2. Patterns of groundwater-scapes
The role of the state Farmersimagination The construction of
groundwater-scapes
Let Fields Lie
Fallow Policy
Reducing rice
production by
providing
compensation
according to the
WTO regulations in
order to preserve
groundwater and
mitigate land
subsidence.
Rice production is a part
of the rural culture.
For aged farmers,
growing rice is better
facilitated with the use
of agricultural
technology.
The neo-liberal
groundwater-scape.
Grain for Green
Policy
Implementing
reforestation to
preserve
groundwater and
mitigate land
subsidence.
Reforestation policies
provided very little
incentive to farmers.
In addition, the policy
failed because farmers
did not assume land
subsidence as their
responsibility, but
instead as a natural
effect.
The failure of
constructing
groundwater-scape by
growing trees.
Golden Corridor
Policy
Building the
Groundwater
Monitoring Network
(GMN) to censor
and manage
groundwater use in
order to mitigate
land subsidence.
In accordance with
governments policy
on GMN, a
groundwater
governmentality was
gradually formed.
The governmentalized
groundwater-scape.
Source: Produced by authors.
The biopolitics of constructing groundwater-scape 19
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and Land Research Network, we are indebted to the research of, and conversations with, fellow
member: Mr. Yu-Shuan Chen. We are responsible for any errors or mistakes.
Endnotes
1 658.6 km
2
of Yunlin County is in a state of subsidence, which accounts for 80 per cent of the
819.8 km
2
of land subsidence in Taiwan. The subsidence rate in Yunlin was 7.4 cm in 2009 and
7.1 cm in 2015, the worst in Taiwan.
2 The rst three approaches focus on land surfaces and thus can only measure the extent and
speed of subsidence as time progresses; the monitoring wells have magnetic rings installed and
can provide further hydrogeological evidence on the relationship between water extraction and
subsidence. Despite the different survey frequencies and sampling strategies of these
approaches, together they can produce high-precision measurements on land subsidence (Hsu
et al., 2015).
3 Specically, the Water Act states: to prevent seawater intrusion and land subsidence resulting
from the over-extraction of groundwater in certain areas, the central authority in charge can delin-
eate a district as a groundwater control area to regulate groundwater(Water Act, Article 47-1).
4 In 2016, the maximum land subsidence rate in Yunlin was around 7.1 cm, which was the worst
in Taiwan; in 20082016, all of the sites experiencing the most severe land subsidence rates
were located in Yunlin. Please see Green Environmental Engineering Consultant
Co. Ltd., 2016.
5 According to the CEPD (2011), Yunlins average groundwater use in different sectors in
200108 was: household use (46 million tons), industrial use (206 million tons), irrigation use
(367 million tons), and aquaculture use (1.35 million tons).
6 In Yunlin, for example, based on the ofcial statistics of the Yunlin County government
(Yunlin County, 2016), the percentages of farmers over the age of 65 within the working popu-
lation (1565 years old) in the four major research sites of this paper, Tuku, Yuanchang
Baozhong, and Huwei, were 26.66 per cent, 33.47 per cent, 27.22 per cent, and 20.35 per cent
respectively. See Yang (2002) for a related discussion.
7 Farmers told us that afforested elds will attract mice and birds, and these animals might
invade into neighbouring eldsthis a reason similar to that quoted by farmers who refuse to
let their elds lie fallow (Farmer 7, pers. comm., Tuku Township, 30 July 2012).
8 Another farmer claimed that the THSR was qi gai gan miao gon(the beggar who came to the
temple and forced the host to move away). He said that land subsidence was an issue for the
THSR, not for agriculture. In this, he implied that farmers should not have to take responsibility
for the hazard they suffered (Farmer 6, pers. comm., Xilou Township, 26 August 2017). Living
in Kouhu Township, a downstream area near Taiwan Strait and one of the most severe land
subsidence areas in the 1980s to 1990s, another farmer indicated that the dike designed to pre-
vent sea water invasion was the reason for ooding because the dike prevented upstream ood
waters from draining (Farmer 11, pers. comm., Kouhu Township, 22 August 2017). Farmers
who lived in Xilou Township in inland Yunlin, argued that the bad drainage system had been
the main reason for ooding there. The inundation problem was alleviated after the local gov-
ernment xed the drainage system (Farmer 6, pers. comm., Xilou Township, 26 August 2017).
9 In 2009, the THSR discovered that the submergence rate of the tower had reached 6.5 cm/year,
over the maximum standard of 4.0 cm. Moreover, the declivity ratio of the tower was
1.076/1500 (the standard is 1/1500). Thus, the team organized by the THSR held a meeting to
address this problem and reported it to the Executive Yuan in March 2010 (Liberty Times
et al., 2010).
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