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PM approves 2 water management projects
Diversion, dredging schemes worth B60bn

Bangkok Post 10 June 08

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej yesterday approved two water management projects worth around 60 billion baht to feed agricultural areas across the country.

The move was seen as the prime minister's first concrete step to realise his ambitious plan to implement water management mega-projects within his four-year term.

Proposed by the national water management board at a meeting chaired by Mr Samak at Government House, the projects include a 43.8 billion-baht scheme to divert water from the Mae Yuam river in Mae Hong Son province to the Bhumibhol dam in Tak province; and a 15 billion-baht project to dredge 6,607 natural water sources nationwide.

Government spokesman Pol Lt-Gen Wichienchote Sukchoterat said the prime minister had instructed the Royal Irrigation and the Water Resources departments to oversee the mega-projects, which would go to the cabinet for consideration soon.

Under the Yuam-Bhumibhol water diversion project, water from the northern river will be diverted for a distance of some 200 kilometres to the dam's reservoir through a 61.8km-long underground tunnel and irrigation canals, said Pol Lt-Gen Wichienchote.

He claimed that the board had already conducted an environmental impact assessment report and the public need not worry that the project might have any adverse impact.

The spokesman said a new agency would likely be set up to supervise the project and integrate work among all agencies concerned.

Pol Lt-Gen Wichienchote said the project was expected to supply water to another one million rai of farmland in the dry season. It would benefit around 15 million people in the lower North, he said.

He also said the project to dredge natural water sources, such as Bung Boraphet in Nakhon Sawan province and Bung Sifai in Phichit province, was aimed at increasing their storage capacity since most of them had become very shallow due to sedimentation over the years.

During Mr Samak's official visit to Beijing on June 30, he will ask the Chinese government to help find Chinese construction companies which are interested in bidding for the dredging project, said Pol Lt-Gen Wichienchote.

This was necessary because most Thai construction firms did not have the heavy machinery needed to do the job properly, he added.

Meanwhile, Water Resources Department chief Siripong Hungspreuk said his agency has already finished drafting the plan for the first phase of the 100-billion-baht nationwide water diversion project.

The plan would be submitted for cabinet approval next week, he said.

The first phase of the project, estimated to cost around 32 billion baht, involved only domestic water diversion, so the department could implement it right away after the cabinet gave the go-ahead, said Mr Siripong.

Under the plan, around 600 million cubic metres of water would be diverted from Huay Laung in the northeastern province of Nong Khai to Lam Pao dam in Kalasin province. The water would feed over one million rai of farmland in the Northeast.Water pumping stations would be set up at some mountainous spots to supply water across high terrain. The government would initially help shoulder the cost of water pumping estimated at 200 million baht a year, but water users would have to pay for it later, he said.

Regarding the prime minister's controversial plan to divert water from Laos, Mr Siripong said that so far no talks have been held between the governments of Thailand and Laos.

Environmentalist Sasin Chalermlarp, who is secretary-general of the Sueb Nakhasathien Foundation, called on the government to carefully consider possible negative effects of the Huay Luang-Lam Pao water diversion project on local people.

The locals could be adversely affected by the expansion or construction of irrigation canals, he said."We fear that the affected villagers may not be given reasonable compensation by the government," he said.


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