ENVIRONMENTAL groups have strongly opposed a plan by the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry to seek invocation of special powers under Article 44 of the post-coup interim charter to commence construction of the controversial Mae Wong dam in Nakhon Sawan province.
In a statement released by the 19 organisations yesterday, they said Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister General Chatchai Sarikulya wanted to implement a project that was against the government's reforestation campaign.
They also said the project was not in line with the water management plan suggested by the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation and the efforts by late environmentalist hero Seub to protect the forests.
Chatchai remarked on Friday that he would consider asking Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to use the ultimate power afforded him under Article 44 to make it easier to implement the project.
He said the move may be needed because it was hard to implement new water-management projects and farmers in Nakhon Sawan needed water.
Prime Minister Prayut, in his capacity as head of the National Council for Peace and Order, has the power to invoke Article 44 on behalf of the ruling junta.
The environmental group said the project would affect a large area of pristine forest in the Mae Wong National Park and conflict with Seub's push to protect the Western Forest Complex.
"The water levels in the nearby Tab Salao and Klong Po damd are low and indicate that this is a rain-shadow area, so constructing another dam will not solve the water shortage problem," the groups said.
"Using Article 44 for this issue will set a precedent for other environmentally harmful projects to similarly use the special power for implementation," the groups said.
Sasin Chalermlarp, president of the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation and a prominent opponent of the Mae Wong dam, said in a Facebook post that he was ready to enlighten Chatchai on the project's shortcomings or he may march again in protest.
In 2013, Sasin marched from Nakhon Sawan to Bangkok to protest against plans to construct the dam, resulting in the project being shelved.
"I am not surprised that the minister has such an idea, because he only listened to one side [of the debate], the Royal Irrigation Department [RID], which has always pushed for this project. I am trying to reach him and give him the other point of view, but he has not bothered to hear me," the prominent activist said.
RID director-general Suthep Noipairoj said it was necessary to build the dam because Thailand did not have enough water.
"We are a seasonal country which has only around 100 days of rain [a year], so we have to build more water storage [facilities] to keep water for the rest of the year," Suthep said.
"Moreover, the site of the Mae Wong dam is perfect for building another dam because this river still does not have a major reservoir. Building this dam will benefit a lot of farmers in the area, who are currently relying only on natural precipitation."
He added that every development would have some negative side effects, but the country had to choose projects that had more positives than negatives and that applied to the Mae Wong dam.
I have got to know the Mae Wong River area quite well over several trips in to the area when I have penetrated about 10km up the river from the camp ground which probably gives me more knowledge of the area than most and in particular than Khun Suthep who it would seem is attempting to take advantage of military rule to push through an unpopular and unnecessary dam construction.
A dam where it is proposed would inundate hundreds of thousand and possibly millions of Rai of forest because the area is quite flat and water from a dam would extend many KM upstream. It would also open up a vast area to poaching using the lake as access.
In the years I have been visiting the area I have never seen the river running high and at the present level of flow it would take many years to fill a dam and in that time the downstream farmers would be deprived of the usual river water they rely on, so much for helping the farmers.
The destruction of a part of what is the Western Forest Complex, the biggest remaining tract of forest in the country should never be contemplated. The forest and its inhabitants (including tigers which I know are present from footprints I have seen) are of far more value to the country than a dam could ever be.
It is not that the country needs more water storage what is needed is better water management. The main dams were lowered back in 2011-2012 to far lower than they should have been and have never recovered with lower than average rainfall. At present the Bhumibol Dam is only up to 7% usable storage while the Sirikit Dam has 33% usable storage, the highest it has been for more than 4 years
I see in todays BKK Post Gen Chatchai has told us: " The Bhumibol dam, for instance, took five years to accumulate and retain enough water as required under water-retention standards, he said."
The Bhumibol Dam is on the Ping River which is a major river with several hundred KM of catchment and if it took 5 years to fill a dam at Mae Wong which would be fed by a small forest river would likely never fill unless the full flow of the Mae Wong was retained by the dam and even then it would take many years to fill to a useful level. In those years the farmers downstream would be deprived of the normal river flow, I doubt they have been told this.
For those who have never been there this gives an idea of the size of the river.
Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister General Chatchai Sarikulya Tuesday dismissed a previous report that he planned to invoke special powers under Article 44 of the interim charter to commence construction of the controversial Mae Wong dam in Nakhon Sawan province.
Chatchai said that the idea was proposed by some villagers who want to get water supply and the officials just took into consideration as per their duties.
Somebody's telling porkies or back peddling.