A smelly canal in the heart of the city

A smelly canal in the heart of the city

A memory from 10 years ago is still haunting me vividly. I remember the time when I had to commute by boat through the infamous Khlong Saen Saep from Bang Kapi to Pratunam. All passengers have to use their hands to prevent water from the canal splashing on the face. The odour of the water is almost unbearable. Anybody who has to commute that way would know what I mean.

About 180 years ago during the King Rama III era, Khlong Saen Saep was built with the purpose to transport food for soldiers who fought in the Siamese-Vietnamese War. Prisoners of war were used to dig the 72-kilometre canal connecting the Chao Phraya River with the Bang Pakong River.

The quiet canal has slowly been transformed. The growth of Bangkok has pushed houses, hotels and condominium buildings towards areas along both sides of the canal. Wastewater from the buildings and lazy people throwing rubbing into the water have caused the canal to become polluted.

Every morning officers from the Department of Drainage and Sewerage cruise along the canal to collect rubbish floating in the water, from small items like foam boxes and plastic bags to big items like plastic buckets. The amount of rubbish each day depends on the time when water from the canal is released to the Chao Phraya River through the main water gate.

Out of curiosity, I collected a sample of water in the Khlong Saen Saep to check its quality by using a microscope to look for microbiomes. We found a lot, especially vorticella. The number of microbiomes determines the water quality. Clean water would have very little. If people receive too many microbiomes, especially bacteria, they will get sick.

Away from the heart of the city in Min Buri, we can find that the water quality is much better even though it is along the same canal. We can see with our bare eyes that the water is clean enough for villagers to use nets to catch fish. It's not hard for people to live a sustainable lifestyle there when food is available right in front of their homes.

Swans are also raised there in order to attract tourists who come to visit Kwan Riem floating market in Min Buri. The water here is much cleaner than the water in the heart of downtown Bangkok.

After multiple attempts to try to solve the polluted water problem, the current government led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has formed a long-term plan to solve the problem. It is expected to be completed in 2020 with a budget of 69 billion baht.

We will have to wait three more years to see how much the government can do to help with the problem and how clean the water can get.

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