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Govt places flood battle before crops

Posted by arnon_k On February - 4 - 2012

Preventing repeat crisis leads water strategy

Flood prevention will take priority over crop irrigation in setting water management strategies for this year, the government announced yesterday.

Water levels in the country’s main dams in the upper North will be reduced sharply over the coming months to ensure discharges during the rainy season will be as low as possible.

Last year’s devastating floods were worsened in part by huge water discharges from the country’s largest dams to relieve excess capacity in September and October following a series of late-season tropical storms.

Critics argued that water levels were kept far too high going into last year’s rainy season for fear that there would insufficient water to support the agricultural sector.

But the Strategic Committee for Water Resources Management (SCWRM), chaired by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, announced yesterday that flood prevention would take precedence over crop irrigation.

Pramote Maiklad, a SCWRM member and former director-general of the Irrigation Department, said water levels at the Bhumibol and Sirikit dams would be slashed to 45% and 41% respectively by May 1.

According to the Irrigation Department, the water level at the Bhumibol Dam was at 82% of total capacity as of yesterday, compared with 55% this time last year. At the Sirikit Dam, the water level stands at 80% of capacity, compared with 69% last year.

Kitti Tancharoen, an assistant governor of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat), said the utility would manage discharges from the country’s dams at minimum levels from August to October while keeping water levels sufficient to meet power, consumption and irrigation needs.

Anond Sanitwong na Ayudhya, another SCWRM member, said Bangkok would be spared flooding this year if the various water management projects are implemented on schedule.

A model estimating the efficiency of the water management projects showed water pressure in Bangkok would fall by nearly half to about 4 billion cubic metres based on similar conditions to last year, when five tropical storms combined to result in the country’s worst floods in over 70 years.

Mr Anond said under the model, areas such as Don Mueang, Sai Mai and Laksi would be safe, although some parts of Pathum Thani, Ayutthaya and Nonthaburi would still be at risk.

Areas in Phichit, Nakhon Sawan and Phitsanulok would be designated as catchment areas in case of excess rainfall. Authorities estimate up to 2 million rai of land could be designated for water retention, with the Agriculture Ministry to announce a compensation plan for affected farmers next month.

Farmers in designated areas will be restricted from planting second rice crops, reducing demand for irrigation water and limiting economic damage if flooding occurs. In exchange, the farmers will receive state compensation at an amount yet to be determined.

The SCWRM also approved a framework establishing a single command authority to oversee water management and flood prevention issues.

Two temporary committees will be established in the interim to coordinate water management plans.

SCWRM secretary-general Vichien Chavalit said the committees will also be tasked with monitoring various short-term initiatives earmarked for 17 billion baht in funds this year.

A permanent committee will be established later to manage long-term water management strategies and infrastructure investments.

The government has announced plans to invest up to 350 billion baht in long-term water management infrastructure projects nationwide.

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