Bangkok water supplies at risk if farmers plant second rice crop
A water crisis in the central plains provinces is potentially threatening supplies for the capital, according to the Royal Irrigation Department (RID). The department noted that two major dams servicing the central provinces had water levels which were well below what would be expected at this time of year. The reasons for this are closely linked with the increased use of land to grow rice.
A spokesman for the RID said off-season rice farming in the central provinces had expanded in recent times to around eight million rai of land, which was twice the Irrigation Department’s recommended limit. This meant that about one billion cubic metres of water had been drained from the Bhumibol and Sirikit Dams to feed the paddy fields, leaving them at almost record low levels.
The knock-on effect of this second rice crop could potentially be a water shortage for the residents of Bangkok. The government has sent messages to the governors of 22 central provinces, instructing them to get the message out to farmers. There are also plans afoot to set up a fund to try and find alternative occupations or sources of income for rice farmers, so they are not totally reliant on growing the crop for their livelihoods.
Given that farmers were already suffering financially due to the failure of the rice pledging scheme, the RID said it would continue to supply water to maintain the second crop. However, they stressed that farmers should not plant any more rice after this crop is harvested as ‘there will be insufficient water to feed the farm lands,’ said the RID spokesman.
Currently the Bhumibol Dam (in Tak province) has around 6.55 billion cubic metres, which represents 49 percent of its capacity, while the Sirikit Dam (in Uttaradit province) has 5.1 billion cubic metres, or 51 percent capacity. The overall situation has not been helped by lower than expected rainfall to this time of the year.
On a brighter note, the water crisis in the central provinces is not likely to extend to the north-eastern provinces since water levels in three major dams in Nakhon Ratchasima, Chaiyaphum, and Khon Kaen provinces are quite full after the heavy rains of 2013.
These dams are currently at 80 percent, 68 percent, and 58 percent capacity respectively, although one area of concern is the lower water levels in the Moon and Mekong Rivers.
The Mekong, in particular, was much lower at this time of year than normal, although part of the reason is suspected to be the closure further upstream of a Chinese dam, which is undergoing maintenance work.
Right now the biggest concern is to make sure water supplies for Bangkok residents are not interrupted or severely restricted.