Grand plan to funnel water to dry Northeast
By Chularat Saengpassa
Pongphon Sarnsamak
The Nation
Published on August 30, 2011

Bt100-billion move to irrigate 34m rai, part of Bt1.7-trillion four-year scheme

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has announced a Bt100-billion policy to funnel water from the Central region to the less fertile Northeast, as part of a large-scale national water-management scheme.

She also announced a Bt300-billion plan for rubber plantations in the Northeast.

The "Development Plans For 20 Basins" scheme aims at developing 60 million rai of irrigated land throughout the country to its full potential. It was accepted in principle by the Surayud Chulanont government and will be approved by Cabinet in the near future.

At a briefing recently at the Royal Irrigation Department, which will implement the scheme, Yingluck said it "corresponded well" with Pheu Thai plans to develop river basins in Isaan, along with two costly policies aimed at benefiting people in the Northeast, who are strong supporters of the party.

Rubber plantations in the Northeast are booming following heavy promotions by PTP rival Newin Chidchob and his Bhum Jai Thai Party, which joined the Democrat government before the July 3 election, and is now with the Democrat-led opposition.

Before the PM openly supported the Bt300-billion policy both prior to and during the RID briefing, PTP was planning to win over more northeasterners and support from BJP supporters, based mainly in Buri Ram and the lower Northeast, through this water management scheme.

The scheme was worked out by the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) and included in the 11th NESD Plan. Its implementation must be environmentally and ecologically friendly while involving full-scale public |participation through involvement of the government, private and public sectors. Only 28 million of the 320 million rai of land in farming and residential areas is sufficiently irrigated with regular amounts - with 75,500 million cubic metres (units) - of water in dams, reservoirs and irrigation gates. Once the scheme is implemented, there will be another 34 million rai of irrigated land and another 26,600 million units of water available each year.

The entire scheme, which should cost Bt1.731 trillion over the four-year period of the 11th NESD Plan which begins next year, will also make another 35m rai of land available adjacent to the 34m rai available during the seasonal or annual peak tides.

The basins are divided into groups in accordance with geographic locations. But no details have been given on which will be implemented, in what order or if there are any preferences.

Water management to prevent flooding will top the agenda for the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to try to mitigate damage from disasters.

Minister Preecha Rengsomboon said yesterday he had told the Water Resources Department to study water management in 25 basins, especially in nine provinces - Sukhothai, Phrae, Nan, Uttaradit, Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan, Ubon Ratchathani, Yala and Pattani - as they needed urgent measures to tackle flooding.

The ministry will spend Bt200 billion to support water management projects and extend irrigation districts.

However, he said the ministry would not step forward [as yet] to construct Kaeng Sue Ten Dam in Phrae to prevent flooding in Sukhothai and lower northern regions.

"We need to conduct studies to find out how the dam will benefit local people and prevent flooding," Preecha explained.

"The Kaeng Sue Ten Dam would not be the only solution to prevent flooding in Sukhothai and other provinces in the lower northern region."

Building small dams or reservoirs to store water in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phrae and Nan would help provinces in the lower North to reduce the impact of floods. "We must [learn more about] the direction of water to see how we can handle flooding," he said.