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Concern over Laotian water diversion plan
Samak's pet project requires EIA study

Bangkok Post. 19 July 2008.

State officials and green groups have raised concern over the
environmental impact Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's multi-billion-
baht water diversion project would cause, if water is diverted from a
Laotian river to the northeastern farmlands.

The government has been urged to disclose the details involving the
project's investment and operational costs, as well as the project
site, to see if an environmental impact assessment (EIA) study is

The project, which calls for the diversion of water from the Ngum
river in Laos to Huay Luang in Udon Thani province, won cabinet
approval on Tuesday, which also set aside a 76.8-billion-baht tunnel
construction budget.

Water would be channelled from the Ngum river to Udon Thani province
through a 17km-long tunnel running under the Mekong river. The
distribution of water to farmlands would be done via irrigation canals
and new pipelines.

Kasemsun Chinnavaso, secretary-general of the Office of Natural
Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (Onep), said the EIA
study cannot be overlooked in case the water pipeline is also designed
to cut through some protected forest areas.

However, his agency, which is in charge of scrutinising EIA reports of
mega-projects, has not as yet been commissioned to look into the
transboundary water diversion project.

"We still have no idea from which areas it will snake through," Mr
Kasemsun said. "However, what we are concerned about the most at the
moment is whether the project is worth the investment. What will be
the price of water per unit and who will shoulder the operational

Montree Chantawong, campaign coordinator of the Bangkok-based Towards
Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (Terra), said there is no
guarantee that Thailand would be able to use the water from Laos for
free as long as there is no agreement in writing.

Even if Thailand is allowed to use its neighbour's water for free, it
doesn't mean that the project would be worth the investment, he said.

"We still have to shoulder the electricity costs to operate the water
pumping stations, as water would have to be pumped into reservoirs
before any distribution," Mr Montree said.

He estimated that water users would have to pay 3-5 baht per unit of
water under the project.

According to the group's initial survey, water pipelines will cut
through over 1,000 rai of pristine forests, making the EIA study a
legal requirement.

The first phase of the project will focus on the domestic diversion of
water from the Huay Luang waterway to the Nonghankumphawapi natural
water retention area in Udon Thani province, according to Water
Resources Department chief Siripong Hungspreug. The water diversion
route will cover around 143km.

The agency expects to complete the first phase of the multi-billion-
baht project in 2012, while the second phase- water diversion from the
Lao river to Udon Thani - will finish in 2013, with almost two billion
cubic metres of water being diverted per year.

The project will benefit around 1-3 million rai of farmland in the
water-starved northeast region.


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