Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Laos tragedy sparks worry over Thailand’s small dams and reservoirs

Jul 31. 2018
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By The Nation

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AN ACADEMIC has voiced concerns about the maintenance of almost 9,000 small dams and reservoirs in Thailand following the Laos dam tragedy.

“Small dams are now put under the care of local administrative bodies, not the Royal Irrigation Department. Can tambon administrative organisations handle such a task efficiently?” Asst Professor Anurak Sriariyawat, who heads the Department of Water Resource Engineering of Chulalongkorn University’s (CU) Faculty of Engineering, asked at a seminar yesterday. 

On July 23, a saddle dam of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydroelectric power project burst in Laos, sending 5 billion cubic metres of water from the mountain to at least 13 villages downstream.

Lao authorities have said the tragedy caused 10 deaths and more than 100 people are still missing. |Other sources have estimated higher |casualties. 

In the wake of the tragedy, several CU lecturers came together to discuss risks in Thailand, at a seminar titled “Dam Collapse: Is it a Lao Matter or Our Matter?”

Anurak said he did not worry about big dams in Thailand because these structures had usually received good maintenance and checks. “But I am worried about 800 medium dams and about 8,000 small reservoirs,” he said. 

He said he had heard that some medium dams have had leakage problems and he is not sure how small reservoirs are being checked and repaired. 

Anurak urged all relevant Thai organisations to learn from the Lao incident to draw up efficient plans for the country. 

He said between 5 and 10 per cent of Thai reservoirs were built to prevent floods, but most were constructed |to store water for use during the dry season. 

 Meanwhile, floods and landslides wreaked havoc in many parts of Thailand yesterday in the face of downpours and the overflowing Mekong River. 

The Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department warned people in 21 provinces to brace for possible flash floods and landslides. 

At risk are Mae Hong Son, Chiang Rai, Nan, Tak, Phetchabun, Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan, Roi Et, Sakon Nakhon, Ubon Ratchathani, Kanchanaburi, Sa Kaew, Rayong, Chanthaburi, Prachin Buri, Trat, Ranong, Phang Nga, Krabi, Trang and Satun. 

Many of these provinces have already been hit with natural disasters. 

In Nan, at least 261 locals were evacuated because of landslides. At least eight deaths were reported in the past week. 

In Chiang Rai, a landslide hit a village in Thoeng district yesterday causing the collapse of several houses and shops. There were no casualties. 

Thoeng district chief Niwat Ngarmtura said the collapse took place after seven days of heavy rains. “We have noticed water seeping out of the soil surface for some time already,” he said. 

In Trang, floodwater up to 70 centimetres deep blocked two large sections of Phetkasem highway and affected at least 50 homes in Muang district.

In Nakhon Phanom, provincial governor Somchai Witdamrong is now closely monitoring Mekong River’s water level. 

“The water level in the province’s Muang district is very high, at 11.85 metres. When the province faced big floods last year, the water level was at 10 metres depth,” he said. 

Somchai has already declared eight districts of Nakhon Phanom as flood-hit zones, as floodwaters ravaged farmland and inundated houses there.

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