Sunday, November 6, 2011

More areas at risk due to lack of organisation

Bangkok Post

With the city centre, Suvarnabhumi airport and two industrial estates at risk, officials have been racing against the clock to drain water out of the eastern part of Bangkok through the city's canal system.
However, a lack of coordination between water management officials at both the city and national level has probably put more areas in danger.

In a worst-case scenario, the only option to solve the crisis would be to let the water drain through floodways _ which are not regulated by gates or pumps _ resulting in no control over the flow.

"Water drainage via floodways is something people on the job don't want to talk about," said Sutat Weesakul, a member of the Water Drainage in Disaster Areas Committee.

"They all know that by draining water via floodways, people downstream could be at high risk of being flooded."

The eastern side of Bangkok, home to Suvarnabhumi airport and the Bang Chan and Lad Krabang industrial estates, is a major concern for business, politicians and officials.

Usually, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) coordinate efforts to defend the area from flooding. On the outer rim, the RID has a series of major canals running from west to east to help channel excess water and drain it into the Bang Pakong River in Chachoengsao province in the east.

The key canals are Rangsit and Khlong Hok Wa, which are connected to one another by a series of smaller canals running north-south from Khlong 1 to Khlong 16.

Khlong 13 normally sends excess water into Khlong Khlong Phra Ongchaochaiyanuchit, running north-south, to accelerate drainage into the Gulf of Thailand.

Sluice gates are the main tool. They are normally installed at the junctions where canals cross paths. At Khlong Hok Wa, seen as the last line of the city's northern defences, they are mainly installed on the upper parts of Khlong 6 and Khlongs 8-13.

But to regulate the water successfully, the RID needs the BMA to take some water into canals located inside His Majesty the King's dyke, which is a key barrier in the east against excessive flooding of the inner city.

Next to it is a vast area designated as floodways for the city.

The confrontation between residents and officials at Khlong Sam Wa last week reflected the extent to which the BMA and the RID are dependent on each other to regulate floodwaters.

On Sunday night, about 1,000 residents living along the canal rallied at the sluice gate on the canal running parallel to HM King's dyke to demand it be opened wider.

They claimed the narrow opening caused serious flooding in their communities. Residents destroyed the dyke running along the canal and parts of the gate.

The government eventually agreed to open the gate at the canal as demanded by the group. This would result in water flowing south into the Saen Saep canal which runs through the city and close to Bang Chan industrial estate.

Officials needed to regulate the sluice gates. They had to lower the gates on Khlong 9 and Khlong 10, running north-south from Khlong Hok Wa to slow the inflow of water in Khong Sam Wa. They also had to adjust the gate on Saen Saep canal, which runs northeast below Khlong Sam Wa to ensure the water level in inner Bang Kapi reached no higher than 0.25m.

According to a senior irrigation official, the BMA initially refused to cooperate. The water drainage committee was told that it was not informed the committee had assigned a technical group to come up with solutions, which reflected the committee's views, so it refused to acknowledge them. The situation has improved, but the water in Khlong Saen Saep has risen, with only 30cm left before it breaches the sides.

Officials have not yet decided to switch to the use of floodways, but the irrigation official said that given the massive amount of floodwater it is probably unavoidable. The situation has also been exacerbated by the fact that the water level is about to rise beyond the dykes and the sluice gates upstream, which could leave the RID powerless to regulate floodwaters.

The floodways area below it has only limited drainage infrastructure, which includes Saen Saep canal, Prawet Burirom canal, Samrong canal and the RID's water pumping stations.

The irrigation source, who also worked for the government's Flood Relief Operation Command, said there has been discord among officials on both sides. The BMA, he said, is supposed to help take the excessive water inside and manage it with its infrastructure. But the Khlong Sam Wa incident also revealed the wildcard factor of community demands, which has worsened the situation.

The official said the RID and the BMA needed to work more closely together and come up with ways to deal with social discord.

''It's not about water, but about how we work together, and also dealing with residents who are affected by flooding,'' said the official.
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