Water crisis turns acute

national March 21, 2016 01:00

By Chularat Saengpassa,

10,699 Viewed

Cautious resource management needed in the next few months to prevent greater damage

OVER THE NEXT four and a half months, Thailand will have to be extra careful with water management to prevent drought from causing far-reaching damage.

Some key dams in the country have already stopped releasing water for irrigating farmland. Their dwindling supplies are rationed for human consumption and preserving the ecological balance.

However, in some areas, the situation is getting so serious that agencies are having a tough time securing water even to keep faucets running.

More than 700 villages in the northeastern province of Si Sa Ket are struggling with a shortage of water for consumption.

“We have to send water trucks to affected villages including to temples and schools,” Santawat Riewluang, chief of the provincial disaster prevention and mitigation office, said yesterday.

Dr Kitti Paopiamsap, president of the Chachoengsao Provincial Administrative Organisation, said the crisis in the eastern province is the worst in 20 years.

“We now have to prepare water for people’s consumption,” he said.

A dozen water trucks were requisitioned to carry 12,000 litres of water each to seriously hit areas, he said.

Suthep Noipairoj, director general of the Irrigation Department, has urged all sectors to save water so that limited supplies can sustain the country until the end of July.

The rainy season usually comes in May, but it is expected to arrive late this year.

Authorities need to ensure water availability until at least early August in case there is more delay.

To ease the water shortage in provinces such as Khon Kaen, Chon Buri and Suphan Buri, the Irrigation Department is preparing to tap the “dead storage” of some dams – the water left at the bottom of reservoirs for infrastructure safety purposes, which is normally not utilised.

Part of the volume of dead storage water in the Ubolrat, Bang Phra and Kra Siao dams will be pumped out to provide water for people in drought-hit areas.

The Provincial Waterworks Authority recently revealed that 12 of its water stations have run into shortages of raw water and 49 others face a risk of shortages.

Some areas in Nakhon Sawan, Khon Kaen and Nakhon Ratchasima get tap water only during certain periods of the day or week.

In many other areas, the agency is distributing only small quantities of tap water to limit water usage.

Local waterworks agencies are also trying to find alternative fresh sources of raw water.

Chao Phraya salinity rises

The Metropolitan Waterworks Authority, which supplies Bangkok, Nonthaburi and Samut Prakan, reported recently that the salinity of the Chao Phraya River had risen beyond acceptable levels several times this month. The authority concluded that it had to be careful in diverting water from the river.

As authorities are hesitant to release water from dams upstream, seawater has intruded into the Chao Phraya River delta area.

Farmers in Nonthaburi are combating salinisation and even have had to buy water for flower gardens and durian orchards.

Jutharat Somjitranukit, director of corporate communications at the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority, said the agency was aware of the farmers’ plight and had offered a special rate for water between February and June.

“We have also installed water dispensers at seven spots in Nonthaburi where people can get free water. It’s a measure to help people cope with the drought,” she said.

Agriculture Minister Chatchai Sarikulya has assured the public that there will be enough water for consumption and ecological purposes in the Chao Phraya and Mae Klong basins until the end of July.

“We can closely regulate the release of water from major dams to help sustain these two basins,” he said.

However, he did not provide assurances to people living in other areas.

He only told them that authorities had been doing their best – as was exemplified by the plan to tap water in the dead storage areas of some dams.

Of the country’s total agricultural area of 130 million rai (20.8 million hectares), only 30 million rai is now being irrigated, he said.

The Interior Ministry has declared 15 provinces as drought disaster areas and 42 more are under watch.

In the long run, the country’s water management system will require a major overhaul, Chatchai said, adding that a new strategic water plan has been drawn up by a water resources policy and administration committee, which he chairs.

The plan covers 10 years, starting last year, he said.