By Pratch Rujivanarom
However, water experts have warned that authorities were repeating the same old water-management practices and expecting different results, adding that many of the new irrigation projects would not be effective and merely waste money.
Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister General Chatchai Sarikulya yesterday said at the Cabinet meeting in Nakhon Ratchasima that Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha wanted to swiftly implement water management plans for the Northeast, so he had already approved the plan in principle.
The series of new irrigation projects will be considered by the National Water Resource Committee before being presented to the Cabinet again.
Chatchai added that the original plan covered the period from 2018 to 2026, but it was shortened to a one-year, short-term plan for 2018-19 with a budget of Bt6.8 billion.
Royal Irrigation Department (RID) deputy director-general Somkiat Prachamwong said many new irrigation projects were included in the water management plan, all of which were intended to tackle floods and drought in the Northeast.
The Northeast is recovering from severe flooding brought by Tropical Storm Sonca last month, which led to a reservoir being breached in Sakon Nakhon province and flash floods in many provinces.
Somkiat said there were many projects that would start by next year, including the Khong-Loei-Chi-Mun Irrigation Project, new medium-size reservoirs in the Chi River Basin, the Lam Ta Kong Irrigation project and irrigation development on the Songkram River.
Somkiat added that Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies would be conducted as the projects were being designed to save time in the implementation of the new irrigation system and construction of water sluices on the Songkram River.
However, Hannarong Yaowalers, a prominent water expert, criticised the plans, saying they were modelled on old-fashioned and unsuccessful irrigation projects. He also urged the government to attend to the real needs of people and improve existing irrigation projects.
“These new projects are not new and the existing irrigation projects have already proved that they cannot prevent floods and drought, but they have caused huge impacts on the people and the ecosystem.”
“I think the government should spend billions of baht on something more useful, such as improving the existing irrigation system.”
Maha Sarakham University lecturer Chainarong Sretthachau also objected to the new projects on the grounds that the Northeast did not lack irrigation projects, but instead suffered from poor management by the RID and related agencies.
“The recent floods proved that the irrigation projects such as reservoirs, dams and river embankments are the true cause of flooding, as we can see that floods in Sakon Nakhon were caused by the broken reservoir and the prolonged flooding in Chi River Basin were caused by the high amounts of water discharged from the Lam Pao Dam,” Chainarong said.