By Chularat Saengpassa
THE CABINET is expected to review the Bang Ban-Bang Sai flood drainage canal project in Ayutthaya in the middle of this month, as the first aspect of a nine-point national water management scheme for the lower Chao Phraya River Basin, which will proceed without an environment assessment, according to Agriculture Minister General Chatchai Sarikulya.
In an interview, the minister said the Water Management Committee and his ministry recently resolved to proceed with the canal project to deal with frequent flooding in the basin.
“Thailand applies international standards on large projects which include an EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] report and all stakeholders’ consents. That takes time,” he said. “That means a slim chance to build a new dam to prevent floods.”
He added that the process was further hindered given strong objections by non-governmental organisations and the length of time required in producing and getting approval for the EIA and EHIA (Environmental and Heath Impact Assessment) reports.
The Cabinet has already approved in principle preparatory works for the canal project in Ayutthaya.
The canal is one of nine long-term solutions to alleviate flooding in the lower Chao Phraya River Basin area, he said, which is expected to coast Bt17.6 billion.
This canal project covering 22.4 kilometres as well as three other projects were discussed by the ministry and the National Water Resources Committee (NWRC) recently.
Chatchai said the Bang Ban-Bang Sai canal would expedite the draining of floodwater, which otherwise would go through the narrow and winding 35km-long waterway cutting through Muang Phra Nakhon Sri Ayutthaya.
One of the three other projects is the Chao Phraya River eastern side water-drainage canal (Chai Nai-Pasak-Gulf of Thailand), including the Chai Nat-Pasak section, which is an existing canal that needs to be dredged, while the Pasak-Gulf of Thailand section would be newly built.
The second project is a water-diversion canal to run in parallel with the proposed third elevated ring road.
And the third is the improvement of the western side of the Chao Phraya River irrigation network (downstream from Khlong Mahasawat-Khlong Pasi Charoen-Khlong Mahachai) and the Khlong Mahachai-Sanam Chai “monkey cheek” water-retention area.
“Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered these solutions to be implemented speedily, especially the Bang Ban-Bang Sai canal and the Chao Phraya River eastern side water-drainage canal so we will table them at the NWRC meeting this month before proposing them to the Cabinet. After that, we will start the site surveys so the construction should begin by late 2018 or early 2019,” he said.
Remedial measures for this year’s flooding would conform to Finance Ministry regulations, he said, adding that his ministry would focus on 13 water-retention fields, including Phitsanulok’s Thung Bang Rakham, where flood-affected people were mostly farmers who would receive Bt3,000 per household besides normal aid and compensation.
The ministry would also provide seed, livestock and fish, as well as lower interest rates for farmers’ debts with agricultural cooperatives, he said, while the “9101 project” would focus on vocational training for farmers.
It was fortunate that the ministry had advised farmers to grow rice two months early as a precaution so crops were ready for harvest by September, minimising crop damage, Chatchai said.
Flood-affected people living outside areas protected by flood barriers were submerged every year, but this year they might be under water for a longer period, he added.
Chatchai said solving the long-term flood problem required the government to prepare tools and management methods, including the construction of new or improved small reservoirs, sluice gates and water-retention areas. In the past two years, more than 1,000 such projects were improved, enabling water-storage capacity to increase to at least 1 billion cubic metres.
Management methods included the appropriate arrangement of water transport, coordination with related agencies and public relations to timely and thoroughly inform people who would be affected, the minister said.
Both the new projects and water management practices had to be carried out at the same time and in equal balance, Chatchai said.
“Flood problems could still occur but they will be minimised. Like this round of floods, had we not done these two things, the situation could have been worse,” he added.