The problem is worse than the one that has attracted so much attention recently in Karon, where black water has also been spilling into the sea from a klong.
In Karon, Governor Maitri Inthusut recently waded into the black water and washed his hands in to demonstrate that the outflow there, though unattractive, is not necessarily unhealthy.
But the Bangtao outflow is not just smelly and unattractive; it is also causing skin rashes in fishermen and boatmen who go in the water, and infecting any cuts in the skin.
Tourists simply do not go to that end of the beach and long-tail boat club members have to stand watch on the beach and warn local children not to go in the water. Contact with the water, the boatmen said, results in itchy skin.
Yesterday (April 10) the boatmen invited media to see for themselves just how bad things are.
They said the filthy water comes from the local community along the klong, which includes hotels and restaurants. During the dry season, with little or no water in the klong, the filth has been accumulating. Now that the rains are back, that filth is being washed down to the sea, black, smelly and thoroughly unhealthy.
Along the shoreline, the waves churn the outflow into a strange unnatural foam.
Tourists staying in the hotel nearby walk to this point on the beach and then, when they hit the wall of smell, turn around and walk away.
Long-tail boatman Apisit Panan-Long said “This bad water is seriously affecting the environment, and the tourists who wanted to go out to the islands [by boat] don’t want to go in the water.
“Many of the fishermen have rashes, and open wounds go rotten. Anybody who has touched the water has to take a shower right away, especially in the past few days when there has been a lot of untreated water [flowing down the klong].”
Another boatman, Yusup Panchalart, said, “I touched the water and got itchy. I could not sleep even though I had already taken a shower.
“This bad water must come from the hotels and businesses. Over the past several months the water was clear, it didn’t smell and there were fish swimming in it.
“But last week the water started to get bad. It turned black and smelly, and a lot of the fish died.
“In the past two days it’s got really bad; the water is a deep black and the shallow corals have died, and the tourists have disappeared. We really need the officials to solve the problem.”
The polluting of Klong Bangtao is by no means a new problem. A year ago, when the Pheu Thai Party was still firmly in power, its spokesman Phrompong Nopparit inspected the filthy canal after a complaint was made direct to the Prime Minister’s Office.
That complaint, filed by village chief Kecha Kroahlek, indicated a certain lack of confidence in the ability of provincial or municipal authorities to solve the problem.
“We have to solve the issue urgently,” Mr Phrompong said, “so that it will not destroy our tourism image, the quality of life for local people, and also marine life.
“Phuket is the window of Thailand, and the local quality of life affects the whole country’s economy.
“I have heard there are many places in Phuket that have similar problems, not just Bang Tao. This will be a model for others to start making Phuket’s water clean.”
The following month the canal was dredged. During a meeting with 50 local businesspeople and residents, Vice Governor Somkiet Sangkaosutthirak warned that everyone who lives around Klong Bangtao must co-operate with authorities to help preserve the canal, and stop dumping sewage in the waterway.
“We have invited you here today to ask for change,” he said. “Whoever is still draining sewage into the canal, please stop it. This is the last chance – the third step for those who continue to ignore our requests will be prosecution. We will knock on your door and follow the law.”
Bangtao’s supposed “model for others to start making Phuket’s water clean” seems a long way from being realised.
V/Gov Somkiet today told The Phuket News, “I have just heard about this from reporters. I will go to the bad water site soon with Ma’an [Samran, President of Cherng Talay Tambon Administration – OrBorTor] to solve this problem.
“Since last July, we have gathered the names of the illegal businesses who should be fined, have their permits cancelled or be closed down. But we have to take this step by step according to the law.”
“This bad water problem is the direct responsibility of the [Cherng Talay Municipality]. There are a lot of hotels that should be fined or closed down.
“We used to send inspectors to check their water treatment systems but if we fail to follow up or we don't check for a while, then the problem starts again. If we are careless about fixing the problem then it will soon come back again.
He said the OrBorTor, the Health Department and the Department of Natural Resources and Environment are responsible for fixing this problem.
Mr Ma’an vented his frustration when The Phuket News called him. “Why don’t you talk about good things in the newspaper?” he asked.
“The problems stem from the people, hotels and businesses who dump all their garbage in the water.
“We called them to a meeting to get permits to install waste water treatment machinery, but no one came.
He said water treatment plants might not be working properly, and that officials had already been sent to look at the problem.
“But if the people continue to dump [untreated waste] into the water, we are going to continue to have this problem.”