VILLAGES around Bueng Khong Long reservoir in Bueng Kan province in the far Northeast got together recently to protect their waters and the lake’s internationally important wetlands. Their water-management plan has become an inspiring model of how communities can successfully balance their own needs and those of nature.
Faced with falling water levels in the lake, rising use of water for irrigation and climate change, people around Bueng Khong Long came together to manage how the lake’s water is used. With aid from WWF, Bueng Khong Long’s water-management committee was formed in 2014 to bring together representatives of all 19 villages to fairly and sustainably distribute water usage so everybody – upstream and downstream villages, plus the wetlands in between – get the water they need.
The committee’s water-allocation plan was put into action in 2015, and after a year of management, villagers reported that the lake’s water level was higher than it was a year ago. This was despite the fact that Thailand was locked in its worst drought in a century at the time.
“The Bueng Khong Long water-management committee is an excellent example of how communities can take the lead in managing important resources like water,” Yanyong Srijaroen, WWF-Thailand Wetlands project manager, said. “By coming together and making a plan for sustainable water use, the people of Bueng Khong Long are ensuring the lake can continue to provide for them for years to come.”
Bueng Khong Long is recognised as a wetland of international |importance under the Ramsar Convention and provides many |benefits to the over 20,000 people who live around the lake.
The reservoir was created over 30 years ago under a royal initiative led by late HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej to improve irrigation for farmers as well as serve biodiversity. The lake’s wetlands are an important stopover point for many migrating birds, and also a vital spawning ground for fish from as far away as the Mekong. Ensuring that there is enough water in the lake to support the wetlands is important for regional biodiversity and food security, as fish are a key source of protein for people in the area.
To protect the lake, the water-management committee came up with the plan to fairly manage water in the Bueng Khong Long. Stakeholders from the local government, irrigation department and |village heads, to fishermen and farmers living around the reservoir – as well as WWF providing advice on the needs of the ecosystem – were involved in creating the water-|management plan, and everybody signed off on it.
Under this plan, the committee will monitor water quality and usage, and meet regularly to decide how to allocate the reservoir’s water as well as solve any disputes that come up. Despite the fact that water has never been rationed this way before, no complaints have arisen, which the committee attributes to the open and participatory planning.
The committee believes their work will continue for as long as the lake needs them. Committee members said they were happy to volunteer their time for this.
“We are proud to work on the committee because Bueng Khong Long is the heart of the people here. The King started this work and we are honoured to continue it,” Somrai Srithin, the committee’s secretary, said.