Bt300 billion water management construction may be "a waste"

Constructions under the government's costly water-management and flood-prevention modules could end up being useless structures because of a total lack of integration between key modules, a leading academic at Kasetsart University (KU) has warned.

The Cabinet, however, yesterday approved the Water and Flood Management Commission's (WFMC) proposal that the government seek a Bt314-bilion loan to finance the nine modules and supplementary projects.

The modules alone will cost Bt284.75 billion, although the chosen bidders have already agreed to lower their bid prices. The initial budget for the nine modules was Bt291 billion.

"The overall price for the nine modules is down by a few per cent," Deputy Prime Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi said yesterday in his capacity as WFMC chairman.

He believes the commission will be able to choose consulting firms for the nine modules within 45 days, and that construction of the flood-diversion channel will commence within a few months.

Bancha Kwanyuen, dean of the Faculty of Engineering at KU's Kamphaeng Saen Campus, said he could not see any linkage at all among modules A1 to A6.

Moreover, module A5 also threatens to direct serious flooding to provinces where extensive floods had never previously been experienced, he said.

"These provinces are Uthai Thani, Suphan Buri, Kanchanaburi and Phetchaburi," he added.

Bancha said academics and the Engineering Institute of Thailand (EIT) would wait to see how the Central Administrative Court rules on these controversial modules. The court is scheduled to deliver its ruling on June 27.

"If the court does not put a brake on these modules, we will closely monitor their implementation and give information to affected people," said Bancha, who is also a member of the EIT.

Stiff resistance expected

Meanwhile, Suwattana Jitraladakorn, chairman of the EIT's water-resources engineering sub-panel, expects strong opposition from locals regarding the implementation of many of the modules.

The construction of dams and a flood-diversion channel in modules A1, A5 and B1, in particular, will face stiff resistance, he said, adding, "Implementation will require land expropriation and the relocation of a huge number of people."

Suwattana also pointed out that none of these modules had yet had environmental health impact assessments.

In his opinion, the planned water-diversion channel would significantly lower the level of the Chao Phraya River, as it would take in 1,200 cubic metres of water per second from the Ping, which is one of its four main tributaries.

"Impacts can be serious during the dry season," he said.

Water diversion from the Ping during the rainy season would also increase the amount of water in the Ta Chin and Mae Klong rivers, which would inundate areas along these two waterways.

Suwattana said he was also very worried about modules A2 and B2, which were about land use and planning.

"What's done in one area can have impacts on other areas," he pointed out.

On the A3 water-retention-area module, he said locals could find it hard to adapt when their neighbourhoods had to hold run-off water.

"The module will require some land expropriation, too, and the compensation will likely be high," Suwattana said.

Regarding modules A4 and B3, which concern main-river and embankment improvement as well as the improvement of a drainage canal in Songkhla, he warned that embankment construction could increase the speed of water flow and adversely affect downstream areas.

The EIT has also expressed much doubt about the ability to achieve the A6/B4 module, which promises an integrated early-warning and forecast information centre.

Suwattana said it seemed the successful bidders had solid expertise in hardware and/or construction, but not in software.

"The water and flood information system centre is not only about hardware, but software as well. We are not confident about the companies' true understanding of flood issues," he added.

He also emphasised that the water and flood information system centre, once established, must offer people up-to-date and accurate information.

"That's the crucial part of the module," he said.