Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Smith warns of dam peril Fears grow of another massive flood disaster

Experts fear that the high water levels in some of the country's major dams could lead to disaster.
Disaster prevention and water management experts are worried that the delay in discharging water from the dams could lead to a repeat of last year's catastrophic floods.
"This is definitely a worrying sign," National Disaster Warning Council chairman Smith Dharmasaroja told the Bangkok Post in a phone interview yesterday. "Agencies in charge of dam operations must urgently release water from the dams to make sure there is enough room to receive new inflows during the approaching rainy season."
Mr Smith, a former Meteorological Department chief and a member of the government-appointed Strategic Committee for Water Resources Management (SCWRM), said Thailand is expected to experience high rainfall this year due to the La Nina weather phenomenon.
"We have to be prepared. Water storage levels in the major dams should be lowered to about 40% of their storage capacity," he said.
The Royal Irrigation Department (RID) reported yesterday the Bhumibol Dam is holding up to 12.3 billion cubic metres, or about 91% of its storage capacity, while the Sirikit Dam is 89% full. Water storage in most major dams in the North, Central and Northeast also exceeds 70% of their capacity.
Some experts blamed mismanagement of water storage in major dams for last year's epic floods. They said dam operators should have released the water before the rainy season arrived to have more retention capacity.
Mr Smith said the government should urgently devise short-term flood prevention plans to prevent a repeat of the 2011 floods.
The SCWRM had also failed to draw up any workable measures as they spent most of the time debating.
Science and Technology Ministry Plodprasop Suraswadi was also upset with the sluggish water discharge from the Bhumibol and Sirikit dams.
Water levels in the two dams remained too high although the rainy season is only months away, Mr Plodprasop said on Monday. "I am going to inspect the dams shortly to see for myself why they are holding so much water," he said.
The Hydro and Agro Informatics Institute's director Royol Chitradon agreed water levels in the Bhumibol and Sirikit dams were too high, but said discharging more water from them could affect residential and agricultural land downstream, especially areas in the Central provinces where floodwaters remain.
Mr Royol said water should be drained out of flooded areas quickly so the dams could discharge more water.
Boonsanong Suchatpong, the RID's spokesman, however, assured that his agency and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, the dam's operator, had carefully managed water storage in the major dams, based on lessons learned from last year's flooding.
The Bhumibol and Sirikit dams, in Tak and Uttaradit provinces respectively, were releasing between 40-55 million cu/m each day to feed off-season rice crops, he said, adding the storage levels in the dams would reach about 40% of their capacity at the end of the dry season in April.
Water storage levels in the major dams were much higher than in the same period last year simply because of the unprecedented volume of rainfall, which caused a vast amount of water to flow into the dams. "We are discharging the water out of the dams _ both for farming purposes and to create space for new inflows," he said.
Bhumibol Dam director Narong Thaiprayoon said the dam had discharged water in line with a plan by a joint committee on water management, chaired by the Agriculture Extension Department chief.