New water storage project to tackle drought in Thailand

Construction News
Rice growers try to seek ground water from the dry irrigation canal in Kao Liao district of Nakhon Sawan province last month. (Photo by Chalit Pumruang)

New water storage project to tackle drought in Thailand

421 facilities to be built to help farmers

The Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry is planning to build an additional 421 water storage facilities in the fight against a looming water shortage, which is believed will be the worst in 10 years.

Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Chalermchai Sri-on said they would comprise “new large, medium and small-scale water source projects”, including kaem ling (monkey cheeks) water catchment areas.

“The new storage facilities will increase water capacity by 942 million cubic metres,” he said on Friday, adding that up to 1.2 million rai of new irrigation areas will benefit from the move.

The minister did not discuss the budget for the project or the construction period but was adamant the projects are required.

The country is undergoing uncertain rain patterns which are leading to unusually low water levels in major reservoirs and rivers, Mr Chalermchai said, who added the phenomenon stems from climate change.

Provinces along the Chao Phraya River, which flows into the Gulf of Thailand, last year used more water than the annual allocation planned by the Royal Irrigation Department (RID). This has raised fears of severe saltwater intrusion into the Samlae tap water production plant in Pathum Thani’s Muang district, which supplies water for Bangkok and its adjacent areas. As a short-term solution, officials will divert 850 million cubic metres of water from the Mae Klong River to the Chao Phraya to maintain the quality of tap water.

However, in the long run, the government needs to expand water storage capacity as the country cannot rely on existing facilities, Mr Chalermchai said.

Up to 40,000 ponds, each with a capacity of 1,260 cubic metres, will be created for farmers working in irrigation areas in a bid to “delay aridity”, he said.

Artificial rainmaking operations are also being planned to cover 25 river basins, the minister added.

If water stocks are still not enough or remain critically low, “underground water will be the last resort”, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa said.

Thailand has a total of nearly 30 million cubic metres which is “equal to a small reservoir”, Mr Varawut said, but added the Groundwater Resources Department needs to dig more artesian wells. In parallel to water supply development, people must also use resources wisely.

“I believe many farmers already have that economical habit,” Mr Varawut said, urging Bangkokians and residents in other large cities to follow suit.

Meanwhile, the RID is preparing to help farmers who cannot grow crops during the dry season by hiring 41,000 to work in irrigation-related jobs for three to seven months, department head Thongplew Kongchan said.