Water management is a recurring problem, no matter whether in the dry or rainy season. In the rainy season, authorities leave too much water in several large reservoirs, so worried are they they will not have enough in the dry season. This harms livelihoods when the rainy season comes, as water has to be released, flooding homes downstream.
This annual vicious cycle will keep harming both the economy and livelihoods of people unless government agencies involved step away from handling water management as "business as usual". They should rather apply new approaches and explore alternative solutions.
The government and agencies in charge again played down this year's deluge, saying a repeat of the disastrous 2011 flooding was unlikely. And, as many major dams this week had storage capacity left of just 20-30%, people started to worry about more disastrous floods.
While residents in Bangkok hold their breath, those living upstream in certain Central Plains provinces have already suffered rising waters since the middle of this month. Torrential rain and the Chao Phraya dam's accelerated water discharge caused flooding in at least nine provinces.
Now more provinces in the region are affected. The acceleration of water discharge from the Chao Phraya dam in Chai Nat has swamped thousands of homes in Central Plains areas.
Additionally, residents in three northeastern provinces, Khon Kaen, Maha Sarakham and Kalasin have also been affected by the release of water from the Ubonrat dam.
The government and state agencies should try to handle flood threats differently. First of all, they should stop playing down the threat of floods even when the scale of coming inundations is uncertain. It's better to help people get prepared, rather than remain complacent.
Since the 2011 disaster that caused more than 1.4 trillion baht damage, or 13% of GDP, it seems like business as usual is the approach still being adopted by the state, even though there is a change in government.
The country's water management is notorious for being handled by 30 agencies in seven ministries applying at least 50 laws. As a result, several parties have called for the need for integrated water management approaches along with concerted and coordinated efforts by government agencies.
But such an integrated approach seems to be far from reality. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha promised a national water management unit in August, but the public has been informed very little about it.
A rethink on our water storage is also needed. Even though large-scale reservoirs help irrigate crops in the dry season, they become flood threats in the wet season. Authorities should explore other small-scale water retention solutions that can be applied into much wider geographic areas, and that can act as both sources of water storage and irrigation. For example, a low-cost technique of underground taming of floods for irrigation, trialled and proven by the International Water Management Institute, is an innovative solution worth being considered by the government.
It involves the setting up of recharge facilities, such as small ponds, in upstream areas to absorb excess water and then infiltrates into the ground. In the dry season, the stored water can be retrieved by using pumps, even affordable solar-powered pumps.
Local communities in provinces upstream of Bangkok should not be repeatedly forced to sacrifice their homes and farms to floods whenever the authorities release water from storage reservoirs.
Providing other new solutions to water storage can help ease their plight in the rainy season while providing benefits in the dry season. Whether or not we will see more disastrous floods in the coming week as more water is still being discharged, the government and authorities still need to come up with improved and integrated approaches to water management. They cannot afford to wait until the next rainy season comes.