March 13, 2000
Irrigation needed, not power supply
Activists and villagers in the Nam Phrom river basin have told the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand to halt power generating operation at the Chulabhorn hydroelectric dam and make use of this controversial dam for irrigational purposes.
The shift in the dam’s purpose will alleviate the suffering of the villagers in the Nam Phrom river basin, who have been facing a water shortage since the dam was built in 1968, they said.
Witoon Poempongsacharoen, director of the Bangkok-based Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (Terra), said the halt of the 40-megawatt dam’s operation would have no effect on the country’s electricity supply with regard to the current excessive supply, which accounts for more than 5,500 megawatts.
“The loss of 40 megawatts is nothing,” he said.
The Chulabhorn dam, also known as Nam Prom Dam, which was built across the Phrom River has changed the river’s course as it diverts water, through its turbines, into another river, the Choen, or Soen in the local dialect. In doing so, the Egat has gained higher electricity while the villagers in three districts of Kaset Sombun, Ban Thaen and Phu Khieo, who live downstream, have to struggle for the diminished water. Their march for water which started in 1973-the year the dam was completed-has earned them the name “water beggars” of the Northeast.
Mr Witoon pointed out that the water shortage problem stemmed from the fact that the Egat has over-produced electricity and failed to keep its promise to release the water for irrigation. From the initial target of 59 million kilowatts per hour, the production has jumped to 130-140 kw/hour.
Because of the dam’s design, irrigation and power generation are not compatible-the more electricity is generated, the more the water is taken away from the Nam Phrom villagers.
Mr Witoon pointed out that the amount of the water for irrigation, which was set at 50 million cubic metres per year, has shrunk immensely, and in certain years has even been nil, as the Egat did not want to lose the water for irrigation.
He also said Egat has been lying about the amount of water released for irrigation.
“According to the Egat’s official report, the highest level of water which had been discharged was 24 million cubic metres against the promise of 30 million. This level is very rare, however. The normal amount is four to five million cubic metres, and in some years, zero.”
Mr Witoon said the dam was totally unfair and he believed Egat should compensate the affected villagers. “Egat has been making money at the expense of the Nam Phrom villagers.”
An Egat officer who asked not to be named, said Mr Witoon’s suggestion was technically feasible. “There is no problem if the 40-megawatt [of electricity] is lost now that the electricity network has been connected. But this is a policy issue. A junior officer like me can’t make that happen,” he said.
Piphob Thongchai of the Campaign for Popular Democracy urged the state agency to return the rights to manage the river to the local people.
Wisuth Khamkaew, a leader of the Nam Prom villagers, said the villagers would bring their demand to Egat later this month.
Categories: Mekong Utility Watch
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