By The Nation
THE MOBILE Cabinet meeting in Sukhothai has approved flood and drought-prevention projects in the Yom River Basin, including enlarging floodwater-retention fields and building new water gates and irrigation canals, but it will not resume the controversial Kaeng Suea Ten Dam project.
Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Grisada Boonrach said after yesterday’s meeting that Cabinet agreed to grant an urgent budget totalling Bt1.9 billion for irrigation improvements and flood and drought-prevention projects in the Yom River Basin.
Grisada said the money would mainly be spent on a plan to expand floodwater-retention fields in the Bang Rakam model project in nearby Phitsanulok province to increase its storage capacity to 550 million cubic metres. Currently the Bang Rakam fields can hold only 400 million cubic metres of water.
Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha acknowledged that the shelved Kaeng Suea Ten Dam issue was sensitive.
He said the government was trying to create reservoirs and expand the floodwater-retention fields in low-lying areas, as authorities had done in the Bang Rakam project, which had proven effective in relieving flood problems in Sukhothai City.
Prayut said the Cabinet had also approved water-management proposals from local leaders and four new water gates would be constructed to prevent flooding downstream.
Expansion of the floodwater-retention fields was proposed by the Royal Irrigation Department (RID). Acting director-general Thongplew Kongchan said the RID planned to have an additional 117,000 rai (18,720 hectares) of floodwater-retention fields for the next flood season. This will increase its capacity to store another 150 million cubic metres of water.
“The success of the floodwater-retention fields under the Bang Rakam model project this year proved that it could significantly reduce flooding problems in the lower Chao Phraya River Basin, and also reduce the severe flooding in Sukhothai. This will reduce the government’s burden of compensating people for damage caused by flooding,” Thongplew said.
During the first year of the scheme, the RID provided irrigation to farmers in the flood retention area from April 1 to allow them to grow their rice crop earlier than usual and let them harvest it by early August. This enabled the authorities to use the vacant fields to store floodwater.
However, the scheme was controversial as people in designated areas said they were unfairly affected.
Thongplew said that of the 265,000 rai of land used in the Bang Rakam model project, 258,400 rai was farmland. The paddy fields were harvested by July and the land was then used for storing up to 400 million cubic metres of water.
After the flood season, around 100 million cubic metres of water were left in the fields for agricultural use during the dry season that started in December, he said.
The RID said that if the Cabinet approves the expansion of the Bang Rakam model floodwater retention fields, a total of 382,000 rai of land would be used for the project with the capacity to hold 550 million cubic metres of water.
Meanwhile, Grisada made it clear that Kaeng Suea Ten Dam was not being considered and the government would implement the “Sa Eiab model”, consisting of four small reservoirs, instead.
A proposal to resume Kaeng Suea Ten Dam was one of 134 development projects worth Bt6.5 billion that former deputy prime minister Somsak Thepsutin asked Prayut to consider at the meeting.
Earlier this month, villagers in Phrae province issued a statement slamming Somsak’s intention to revive the long-abandoned plan. They asked for the “Sa Eiab model” to manage irrigation to cope with drought in summer.