EARTH Thailand

EEC threat to water resources

The Nation 02 November 2018 | PRATCH RUJIVANAROM

Experts warn three provinces already facing shortages; agencies look to create new reservoirs in nearby areas.

THE RISK of water scarcity is looming in the East, thanks mainly to a boom in industrial development in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC).

Experts have been expressing concerns that the rising demand for water in the three EEC provinces – Chon Buri, Rayong and Chachoengsao – will lead to conflicts and confrontations over limited resources. They also have warned that the conflicts might spill over to nearby provinces, as the Eastern Economic Corridor Office (EECO) seeks more water resources. This comes at a time when many parts of Thailand are suffering from a drop in rainfall due to climate change. 

Somnuck Jongmeewasin, Silpakorn University lecturer and EEC Watch member, said even without rapid investment in EEC, core provinces such as Chon Buri and Rayong are already suffering shortages, as water consumption stands at 739 million cubic metres versus the allocated 941 million cubic metres. 

“With industrial expansion and population growth from EEC projects, water demand in this area will rise to around 1.21 billion cubic metres, surpassing the amount allocated, so more water resources need to be sought from outside to quench the thirst of the industry sector,” Somnuck said.

He added that EECO was now working with related agencies, primarily the Royal Irrigation Department (RID), to find more water sources in the nearby provinces of Chanthaburi, Trat, Prachin Buri and Sa Kaew. 

“However, diverting water from these provinces will give rise to fiercer competition and other problems such as unjust land expropriation and deforestation to make way for new reservoirs,” he warned. 

The RID is spending Bt11.2 billion to build 16 new irrigation projects in the three EEC provinces to boost the volume of available water to 260.67 million cubic metres, specifically to feed the industrial sector.

The RID is also developing 10 new reservoirs in Sa Kaew, Chanthaburi and Trat, which should store up to 570 million cubic metres of water. 

Then there is the large-scale expansion of durian plantations in Rayong and Chanthaburi to meet the upsurge in demand for Thai durian in China. 

This will not just give rise to competition for water between agricultural and industrial sectors, but will also spark conflicts with fruit farmers, Somnuck said. 

He explained that one durian tree consumes more than 150 litres of water daily, which means one rai (0.16 hectare) requires close to 1,200 to 1,500 cubic metres of water per year.

As per the Agricultural Economics Office, Chanthaburi has devoted the largest area, 207,483 rai, to durian plantations, while Rayong ranks third with 69,187 rai earmarked for growing durian. 

Based on these figures, irrigating these durian plantations alone will require around 311 million cubic metres in Chantaburi and 103 million cubic metres in Rayong.

“Even though the East has received a handsome amount of precipitation this rainy season, many provinces in the region are on the brink of water shortage due to the huge amounts being pumped into durian plantations,” Somnuck said. 

“When factories in the EEC begin operating next year, competition for water will become worse, as more water is diverted to the EEC.” 

Seri Suparathit, director of Rangsit University’s Centre of Global Warming and Natural Disasters, cautioned that a drop in rainfall due to climate change would also worsen conflicts in the East. 

“According to long-term climate projection, provinces in the East will get lesser rains in the future,” Seri warned. 

He said the authorities should review related regulations on where investments are made, as industrialists tend to choose land that is cheap, with no water sources, to cut down on investment costs. 

“The authorities should carefully plan industrial expansion to suit the use of local land and water resources to minimise the risk of igniting water conflicts, while business operators should apply efficient policies to cut down on water demand, such as recycling or desalinating water for industrial use,” he suggested.