Army to Deploy Amid Water Crisis

Posted in: Global Water News, Water Conservation, Water Crisis
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So little water remains behind the country’s biggest dam, the Bhumibol, that the Royal Irrigation Department has admitted it “made a mistake” in estimating water management – but will ask the God of Rainfall for help. (Photo credit: Thanarak Khoonton)

Article courtesy of APINYA WIPATAYOTIN AND PATSARA JIKKHAM | June 16, 2015 | Bangkok Post | Shared as educational material

The Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives Ministry will ask the army to deploy forces to guard sluice gates amid the water crisis.

Minister Pitipong Phuengboon Na Ayudhaya was speaking Monday after state agencies met to discuss the recent dry spell.

Mr Pitipong said most crops were cultivated on 3.4 million rai of paddy fields in the Chao Phraya River basin, and the water released from dams should be enough to maintain them until harvesting.

However, farming of another four million rai of rice fields covering 22 provinces will have to be delayed until normal levels of rainfall return, which the Thai Meteorological Department (TMD) says could occur around late July.

Local agencies, particularly the army, will be asked to cooperate to discourage farmers from starting more cultivation, Mr Pitipong said.

Soldiers will be asked to help protect sluice gates due to concerns they are being forced to open to aid crop cultivation.

The ministry also wants them to ward off any conflicts among farmers due to limited water supply.

“We don’t want to see a water war among the citizens,” Mr Pitipong said.

Meanwhile, the ministry will survey 1.25 million rai of rice fields in the Chao Phraya River basin and encourage farmers to grow short-lived crops, such as corn, or raise livestock instead, the minister said.

Office of Agricultural Economics secretary-general, Lersak Riewtrakulpaibul, said if the drought continues and affected seasonal rice cultivation, losses could total around 60 billion baht.

Due to the drought, the farming sector is expected to contribute no more than 1.15% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) this year, lower than the 2.3% that was earlier forecast.

Pitipong: Does not want ‘water war’ (Photo credit: Bangkok Post)

Deputy government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd urged people to help conserve water and refrain from activities using large volumes of water, such as filling residential swimming pools.  “I believe that with cooperation between all Thais, we will be able to get through this drought crisis together,”  said Maj Gen Sansern.

The long-lasting drought during the rainy season has raised questions about the water management plan of the Royal Irrigation Department (RID).

After a flooding disaster hit the country in 2011, which caused an estimated economic loss of more than 1.4 billion baht, the RID changed its guidelines for water level storage, known as rule curves, so dams could discharge water from the reservoirs early in the rainy season.

However, over the past few years, less rainfall has been experienced which meant the volume of water kept in the country’s two main large dams— Bhumibol in Tak province and Sirikit dam in Uttaradit province and Sirikit dam in Uttaradit province — had fallen significantly.

The TMD suggested the worsening situation this year was due to the El Nino phenomenon that causes less rainfall in Southeast Asia.

Hannarong Yaowalers, chairman of Thai-Water Partnerships, said the RID and other water management agencies should reconsider their water management policy by focusing on water consumption security as well as flood prevention.

“They are afraid of repeats of heavy floods so they don’t care much about the drought problem, but the department should balance this against managing water consumption effectively,” he said.

The RID admitted last week it had made a mistake with its water management when the drought came unexpectedly during the rainy season.

However, the department said it would perform a sacred ceremony for Phra Phirun, the God of Rainfall, at Sirikit dam in the hope that would help.

Meanwhile, Songkran Agsorn, TMD deputy chief, said the country had experienced the effects of El Nino since March and this would continue for the next six months to one year.

This meant the country will have 10% less rainfall this year than average. Normal rainfall is expected from the second half of July, he said.

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