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in-focus

Dam claims hold no water: experts


Irrigation official agrees conditions have changed since the Bt2.3billion project was initially proposed.

ACADEMICS WARN that a dam newly approved for southern Nakhon Si Thammarat province will intensify conflicts between citizens and the authorities and destroy a bountiful forest ecosystem, while bringing no substantial benefit in terms of irrigation or flood prevention.
Citing farmers’ needs and flood perils, the Cabinet recently approved the Royal Irrigation Department’s (RID’s) proposal to establish the Wangheeb Dam and Reservoir in Thung Song district. It’s expected to cost Bt2.38 billion.
But the stated rationale for the dam is being questioned.
Chainarong Setthachua, a lecturer at Maha Sarakham University, yesterday said the project would provide none of the benefits the department cited. Rather, he said, it would have severe negative impacts on residents and pristine forests.
“RID stated that the intended benefits are to create water storage for dry-season farming and to relieve the flood situation in the district during the rainy season, but in reality none of these benefits can be achieved by building this,” Chainarong insisted.
“That’s because farming patterns in the region have already shifted. The farmers no longer need dry-season irrigation water, and water from the Wangheed River doesn’t directly flow into urban Thung Song, so damming the river will not substantially prevent flooding in the area.”

Concerns ignored
He said the project evaluators failed to address the concerns of residents, who presented a petition to the government. The Cabinet ignored it, in what Chainarong called a clear violation of communal rights and human rights.
Approval was based on a 15-year-old Environmental Impact Assessment, he said, and the situation had changed.
Sermchai Siaosirithavorn, director of the Large Scale Water Resource Water Development at the RID, conceded that construction of the Wangheeb Dam would not directly help prevent flooding in urban Thung Song and that demand for dry-season irrigation had abated.
But he maintained that the project would ensure that future water crises would be avoided.
“The RID acknowledges that opinion is divided – there are the people who will benefit from this dam and people who will not,” Sermchai said.
“However, as the agency with |the responsibility for ensuring |water security for every locality, we believe it will be useful to have the irrigation project in this area, because it will allow us to more easily manage the water.”
Sermchai also noted that, despite being approved, construction could not start right away. The RID must first hold more public meetings on the construction plan to find an approach on which all stakeholders can agree, he said.
 

Published : December 19, 2018

By : PRATCH RUJIVANAROM THE NATION