Drought? We can cope

Drought? We can cope

Special report: The industrial sector remains convinced it has enough water for this year, but what about next year?

Amid the looming drought caused by the unusually long dry season, high heat and lack of rainfall, the industrial sector is still confident the situation is “manageable” with sufficient water supplies till the end of the dry season. However, uncertainties remain about whether the volatile El Nino weather pattern will wreak havoc this year.

Water in the Sirikit Dam has reached a critical low. The reservoir has been replenished with very low rainfalls over the past months.

Industry executives and water experts believe the weather has not led to a breaking point for business operators. Cooperation between the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat), as well as better water management plans, have ensured water and power supplies to industrial, agricultural and the public are adequate until the end of the dry season.

Suthep Noipairoj, deputy director-general for operation and maintenance at the RID, said the water reserved at key dams and other sources is likely to cover the dry season until the rainy season starts in late May. But the amount of rainfall Thailand will receive is still unpredictable.

Mr Suthep said the water reserved in the Bhumibol and Sirikit dams in northern Thailand, some 10.23 billion cubic metres, is almost equal to that of last year. For the northeastern region, rainfall increased this year, driving the total there up by 13% to 900 million cu m.

“The amount of reserved water in other dams may be slightly less than last year, but I’m confident there will be sufficient water supplies until the end of the dry season,” said Mr Suthep. 

However he expressed concern over next year’s water supplies, which will be collected during this year’s rainfall.

“Less stored water might pose some risks to next year’s water management,” he said.

The RID is in charge of water management to meet all usage demands: domestic consumption, agriculture, industry and maintaining ecological systems. Agriculture uses the most, followed by maintaining ecological systems, domestic consumption and industrial use. But domestic consumption is the first priority, said Mr Suthep.

Royol Chitradon, director of the Hydro and Agro Informatics Institute (HAII), said it is hard to predict the extent of this year’s drought because the El Nino signs are unclear. 

Water reserves were depleted as there was excessive water use to plant second-crop rice this year, he said. The RID said rice farmers grew 8.5 million rai of second-crop rice when earlier projections were for only 4.7 million rai.

Mr Royol also expressed concern over the water quality at Bang Pakong River as it has turned salty from ocean water pushing up from the Gulf of Thailand. For the past month the Bang Pakong’s flow was too weak to prevent sea water from entering the river mouth. 

Pramote Maiklad, the former director-general of the RID, said the situation has been resolved by releasing 7 million cu m of water a day from the dam to push out the sea water. He added planting of second-crop rice after May should stop as water supplies are normally limited during this period.

Industrial sector

Mr Royol said most industrial estates and big factories have adequate water supplies because they have their own water reservoirs and systems in place. But small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) typically lack their own water reserves.

He said water shortages in Chacheongsao and Prachin Buri provinces were eased by diverting water reserves from Chon Buri and Rayong.

Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT) governor Veerapong Chaiperm said estates are well prepared to cope with a possible drought, particularly in the eastern zones, where water reserves are sufficient. But he advised all industrial estates to utilise water efficiently and economically by recycling use.

He is concerned about Ayutthaya and Saraburi areas as most plants there use water reserves from the Chao Phraya River, which has recently had quality problems.

“The water turned salty, but this is just temporary and they are working to solve it,” said Mr Veerapong, adding the IEAT monitors the situation on a weekly basis.

“Manageable” drought

Jaroensuk Worapansopak, executive vice-president of Eastern Water Resources Development and Management Plc, said industrial estates along the Eastern Seaboard will have enough water supplies until the end of the year. He credits cooperation among the company, the RID and “war room” representatives.

The war room was founded in 2005 after a drought and comprises several parties such as the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) and the HAII. The team takes into account risk management and long-term water management plans. 

“We’ve looked into 10-year plans that include finding new water sources, building new water detention basins, and looking for private water suppliers. Climate change is a big challenge for us and it’s quite extreme. So solutions have become more complicated,” said Mr Jaroensuk.

He said water reserves in Chon Buri, Rayong and Trat reservoirs hold 70% of their full capacity, while another reservoir in Prasae, Rayong, holds 80% of its total capacity. He is confident water supplies will be sufficient for eastern industrial estates including Map Ta Phut and Hemaraj.

The industrial sector has used about 1% of its total water allocation from the RID.

Business precaution  

Egat warned businesses using large amounts of water to prepare for a possible drought, which may lead to water supply disruption during the end of May to June if rainfall is less than anticipated. 

Natchaphon Phumwiangsri, assistant governor at Egat’s Hydro Power Plant, said although the drought threat is not serious, businesses in food processing, beverages, fisheries, garments and others using cooling systems that require a large amount of water should be well prepared.

The Bhumibol Dam recently reported water reserves of 5.96 billion cu m or 44% of its total capacity, which is being supplied to the central region at 12 million cu m a day. The Sirikit Dam had 4.66 billion cu m or 49% of its capacity, and is being drained to supply the central region at 14 million cu m per day.

“By the end of April, water in the reservoirs is likely to have dipped to a total of 3 billion cu m. If rainfall is low, then drought is expected,” said Mr Natchaphon.

Do you like the content of this article?

Sentiment hits 3-year high amid economic recovery

The Digital Industry Sentiment Index rose above the threshold of 50 in the first quarter for the first time in 12 months, reaching a three-year high, according to a survey by the Digital Economy Promotion Agency (Depa).


MFP speaker pick named mid-month

The Move Forward Party (MFP) is expected to finalise its candidate for the House Speaker post in the middle of this month, said party secretary-general Chaithawat Tulathon.


BTSC says it's ready to invest in 'missing link'

The Bangkok Mass Transit System Plc (BTSC) is ready to invest in a 2.6-kilometre missing link to connect its Yellow Line monorail to the Green Line of the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA) at Ratchayothin and Lat Phrao stations.