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Can new dykes prevent another disaster?

Residents are divided over water defences

Published: 22/02/2012

Residents in Nakhon Sawan are not fully confident that new dykes can make their home town flood-proof after powerful runoff broke down defences along the Chao Phraya River and caused severe flooding last year.

Aworker walks alongside a high embankment built to prevent overflow from theChaoPhrayaRiver. NakhonSawan officials are speeding up work to increase the height of the flood wall inMuangdistrict after itseconomicarea was severely flooded last year. PATTANAPONG HIRUNARD Memories of downtown Nakhon Sawan under nearly two metres of water for almost a fortnight in October remain vivid in the minds of local people. Despite Nakhon Sawan municipality's determination to protect the heart of the province from flooding by surrounding it with nine-metre dykes stretching for 12 kilometres, many people are afraid of a repeat disaster. Kaysorn Kor-ngonwatchawong, a shop owner in Nakhon Sawan municipality, believes the area will be flooded again this year because the new dykes might not be completed before the rainy season. Mrs Kaysorn's shop, which sells fertiliser and farming instruments, is situated near the Chao Phraya River bank, and was put under 1.8 metres of water when last year's deluge hit.

"I think flooding will recur," Mrs Kaysorn said, adding that she would not build up her stocks this year to limit possible damage from floods. Although the giant dyke was still under construction, another Nakhon Sawan municipality resident said she was confident the Yingluck Shinawatra administration could prevent future floods. The woman, who is in her 50s and asked not to be named, said the government was working hard on the issue and the prime minister was capable, so the flood threat should be lessened this year. She said the severe flooding had resulted from excessive discharges from the Bhumibol dam last year. With good management of water at upstream dams, she thinks floods in Nakhon Sawan can be contained. There was more water in 2006 but Nakhon Sawan was not flooded then, said the woman, who owns the Tang Toh Kuang gold shop in Nakhon Sawan municipality. If a serious flood hits Nakhon Sawan again, she thinks the damage will be enormous because many businesses in the province had already stocked their goods. However, her gold business will not be severely affected because gold items were small and easily moved. Her only losses would be due to ceasing sales while the shop closed, not because of damaged stock, she said. Chatpongsak Konsuwan, a contractor building the dykes protecting inner Nakhon Sawan, warned the defences would increase and speed up the flow of water in the Chao Phraya River because they would not allow the river to overflow into fields in Nakhon Sawan. "I was born and grew up in Nakhon Sawan. I have seen the water for all my life," he said. "Water needs places to stay." Mr Chatpongsak said if provinces upstream had their own dykes along the Chao Phraya, the river would become an "expressway of floodwater" and if Bangkok could neither drain water into the sea through its network of canals nor divert it to adjacent areas effectively, flooding would happen faster in the capital. Nakhon Sawan is spending 1.11 billion baht on building dykes around the municipality, which is the economic heart of the province. The construction began with a dyke facing the Chao Phraya River. The government wants it to be built before the next rainy season. Dykes on the other sides of the municipality are scheduled for completion in two years. The municipality has asked the government to subsidise the dyke project.

Urgent projects allotted B5bn

PM supports retention areas, walls and dykes

Published: 18/02/2012

The government has approved an additional budget of 5 billion baht to implement 117 urgent water management projects ranging from upstream to downstream areas, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said yesterday.

The projects were proposed during the prime minister's one-week tour of floodprone provinces to ensure the effectiveness of flood-prevention measures this year. The cabinet will be asked on Tuesday to approve the special budget for the urgent projects.

The projects include the construction of kaem ling (monkey cheek) water retention areas, floodwalls and dykes to prevent floods from inundating important areas, particularly economic zones and industrial estates, Ms Yingluck said. She said the government wants about 2 million rai of fields in the Central Plain to be reserved as monkey cheek areas to retain 5 billion cubic metres of floodwater. So far, the government has been able to allocate 1.5 million rai for this purpose 500,000 rai in Nakhon Sawan and 1 million rai in the lower Central region, including Bang Ban district of Ayutthaya. Ms Yingluck said she and the other ministers involved will closely follow the progress of the projects and update the public regularly. She thanked all state offices, ministries, provincial governors and Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra for cooperating fully with the government, and especially those people who sacrificed their land for use as monkey cheek areas. Asked whether manufacturers affected by last year's floods had decided to keep their production bases in Thailand, Ms Yingluck said they had confirmed that they would. She said the Japan International Cooperation Agency would provide both financial and technical assistance for the government's water management plans. Ms Yingluck will visit Japan next month. Meanwhile, Democrat Party MP for Phatthalung Naris Khamnurak, also the chair of the House panel on land, natural resources and the environment, said yesterday the government might violate the charter if it implemented a floodway project right away without an environmental impact assessment. He cited Section 67 of the constitution, which requires any project or activity that may have serious impacts on communities and the environment to undergo such an assessment by an independent organisation on the environment and natural resources, as well as public hearings. Mr Naris said the government has a plan to build a 180-metre-wide and 100kilometre-long canal from Ayutthaya to Samut Prakan to function as a floodway to protect provinces in the lower Central Plains, including Bangkok. Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the government should guarantee fair compensation for people who stand to be affected by the water retention area plan. Meanwhile, Bancha Pong-ayukul, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture and cooperatives, suggested the government go ahead and build the controversial Kaeng Sua Ten dam in Phrae which would allow for better water management in the Yom River basin.

Flood projects won't finish before rains

Budget problems delay launch of prevention plans

Published: 20/02/2012

State agencies are running out of time to complete short-term flood prevention plans before the arrival of the rainy season in three months.

Niwatchai Khampee, deputy chief of the Department of Water Resources, admitted some projects should have started late last year but have been delayed because of budget problems. The current budget which was recently approved in parliament has not yet been declared in the Royal Gazette, which means the government cannot use Treasury money to fund the projects. The government has allocated 10.7 billion baht for 581 projects under its short-term plan to prevent flooding. Most of the projects involve dredging canals, rivers and ponds, repairing irrigation networks and sluice gates, and raising road surfaces so they can also serve as flood barriers. "We now hope we can start working early next month. If everything goes as planned, we may be able to complete the works within the three-month deadline given by the government," he said. The Department of Water Resources is responsible for flood prevention work for rivers and canals in western Bangkok. That includes Klong Bang Sai, Klong Bodhi, Klong Kwai, Klong Khun Si Burirat, Klong Bang Ku Wieang and Klong Soi. The dredging of 23 canals which pass through Bangkok will be carried out by City Hall. Mr Niwatchai admitted his agency is having problems dredging the six Bangkok canals under its responsibility. He said land along the canals is fully occupied and he has yet to figure out how to bring heavy machinery into the areas and how to bring waste out. And the water level in the canals is still high as a result of new discharge from the major dams in the north. The water volume at Bhumibol dam in Tak was still 7 billion cubic metres as of Feb 16, or 52% of its full capacity. The water volume at Sirikit dam in Uttaradit was recorded at 6.7 billion cubic metres, or 65% of its capacity. The government has instructed the two dams to lower the water storage to 45% of their capacity by the end of April. There has been concern that unusually high rainfall since early this year might cause a recurrence of widespread flooding. The Meteorological Department predicted this year's average rainfall will be about 20% higher than that of the country's 30-year average.

It attributed the unusual rain to the La Nina phenomenon which still exerts an influence over the country, and the collision of the high pressure wedge from India and China and the low pressure trough from the South China Sea over the Central Plains. Last year's historic flood was caused by the same factors, the department said. It added, however, that last year's rainfall during the same period was 40% above the 30-year average. "We have seen a higher volume of rainfall since January. "The trend is likely to be the same for the hot season when we can see more rain and lower temperatures," said Somchai Baimoung, deputy chief of the Meteorological Department. Meanwhile, the Department of Royal Irrigation has allocated more than 5 billion baht to fix and improve all irrigation systems under its remit. Chalit Damrongsak, chief of the Royal Irrigation Department, said much work has already been done. He said the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives will finally complete its plan for water retention zones by the end of this month and submit it to the Strategic Committee for Water Resources Management for consideration. The plan covers zone location and compensation for people to be affected. Some 1,800 square kilometres of land in the upper Chao Praya River and 1,739 square kilometres in the lower river will be slated for water retention zones. Mr Chalit said local people living in Bang Ban in Ayutthaya province, which is one of eight water retention zones, have agreed with the government's plan. The group has demanded, however, they be allowed to grow two rice crops each year and that the government must generously compensate them for the use of their land. This would include state support to build new homes. Mr Chalit said public hearings would be needed in each locality since people's demands were different. Padermsak Jarayadhand, director of Aquatic Resources Research and Institute of Chulalongkorn University, said he was concerned about the government's flood prevention measures. "The government uses money as the key factor to deal with the problem. They draw up the projects and inject the money into them. It is impossible for all the projects to be completed in three months. The government is spending the budget based more on its political motives than the country's benefits," he said.

This is the first report in a series concerning preparations for this year's rainy season.