The news comes as Phuket’s main reservoirs remain at record low levels despite recent heavy rains.
Downpours drenched the island on Tuesday and Wednesday, with Tuesday (July 16) alone seeing the Phuket Town area doused with 79.2mm of rainfall and Phuket International Airport recording 40.6mm. Rain on Wednesday saw a further 28.5mm of rainfall land across Phuket Town and 28.4mm at the airport.
Regardless, the Office of National Water Resources (ONWR) daily readings of the water levels at the island’s two main reservoirs – Bang Wad reservoir in Kathu and Bang Neow Dum reservoir – delivered shocking news on Wednesday.
Bang Wad reservoir contained just 600,000 cubic metres of usable water of its more than 10.2 million m3 capacity, while Bang Neow Dum contained about 340,000m3 of usable water of its 7.2mn m3 capacity.
As of yesterday, after a week of heavy rain across the island, the ONWR noted in its daily report for July 19 that Bang Wad reservoir contained just 0.99mn m3, of which 0.72mn m3 was suitable for domestic use. Bang Neow Dam was reporetd as having 0.52mn m3, of which 0.41mn m3 was usable for distribution to households.
The ONWR, established last year by order of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to resolve the country’s recurring water crises in the hope of avoiding disaster, has listed Phuket as the second-highest province in the country at risk of running out of water supply this year.
The new record low reservoir levels affirmed explanations from Phuket water officials last week that rainfall on the island is either simply not finding its way to the reservoirs or it is diverted directly from canals that feed the reservoirs to provide water to houses and businesses across the island as a “need-to-now” solution. (See The Phuket News page one story last week.)
“There’s not enough water on this island,” Somsawat Chaisinsorn, Director of Phuket Provincial Irrigation Office, posted on his personal Facebook page immediately in response to The Phuket News page one story last week, highlighting the record low levels of water in Phuket’s main reservoirs despite the island already passing the halfway point in the “rainy season” of the southwest monsoon.
However, he did reveal, “There are plans for a long-term sustainable solution coming for all areas of Phuket. Please be patient.”
Following Mr Somsawat’s optimistic foretelling, Phuket Provincial Waterworks Authority (PWA) Chief Graisorn Mahamad this week was finally ready to reveal the details.
“I plan to have water supplied from a pipe connected to the mainland. The pipe will be connected to a Phang Nga PWA water source, be piped across the channel to Phuket and be connected directly to residents houses. After that, Phuket people will not suffer water shortages anymore,” he said.
The project was initially submitted to PWA officials in Bangkok last year, Mr Graisorn told The Phuket News.
“Experts from the PWA’s Construction Division came down to Phuket and Phang Nga last week. I showed them the project areas for inspection in the afternoon on July 10,” he said.
“I am confident this project will be approved soon. The budget already has been submitted to Cabinet for approval,” he added.
Mr Graisorn’ estimates that Phuket needs 123,476m3 per day in order to meet demand for the next 10 years.
“Phuket has grown phenomenally over recent years. There are more tourists, more residents, more businesses,” he said, noting he expects that growth to continue.
The entire project is planned to be rolled out in two phases costing a budgeted B3,517,785,000, with Phase 1 alone costing B2.597bn, Mr Graisorn explained.
Phase 1 will see a water-production station built to draw water from the Phang Nga Canal, which runs through Phang Nga Town.
“This will purify water and be able to supply Phuket about 3,000m3 per hour,” Mr Graisorn noted, adding that the water will be dedicated to supplying Phuket only.
Phase 1A will see B846.266mn spent on building a water-producing station and a pump station in Phang Nga, and the beginning of water mains installation.
Phase 1B, costing B889.468mn, will see construction of a pump station building and pipe installation in Mai Khao, and Phase 1C will see B861.266mn spent on installing the water pump equipment, and more pipe installation, at the Mai Khao pump station.
The second phase of the project is expected to cost B920.785mn, with construction hoped to start in 2023, Mr Graisorn said.
Phase 2 will see water production in Phang Nga ramped up 5,000m3 per hour, he added.
The project will also require the PWA acquiring 100 rai for a new reservoir in Nop Pring in Phang Nga’s Muang District and five to 10 rai for each of three water-distribution stations: one in Mai Khao; one in Pa Khlok; and one in Kalai in Phang Nga’s Takua Thung District, on the north side of the bridge from Phuket.
LONG WAY TO GO
Mr Graisorn admitted that the project still has a long way to go, but hopes that the full legal process will be completed quickly with support from officials and the public.
“The project still needs to be approved, and pass its Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and public hearings,” he said.
Mr Graisorn also pointed out that the project relied on the Phang Nga Canal providing water surplus to Phang Nga’s needs
“The water level in Phang Nga Canal is high during the rainy season from May through October. The Phuket PWA can take the water during these months, but in the dry season the water must be for Phang Nga first,” he said.
“So during the rainy season we will use the water to refill Phuket’s reservoirs, and during the dry season we will also have the (yet-to-be-built) Nop Pring reservoir to make sure we have enough water during the dry season,” he added.
CHEOW LAN NOT THE ANSWER
Mr Graisorn explained that the move to try to source water from off-island dates back to 2002 when Phuket suffered a drought causing a water-shortage crisis that alarmed many officials that water-supply infrastructure in Phuket was plainly insufficient to meet demand.
“The crisis led to the PWA drawing up a proposal to draw water from the Cheow Lan reservoir,” he explained.
Cheow Lan is an 185-square-kilometre artificial lake that stretches from Surat Thani Province into Phang Nga Province. The Rachaprapha Dam was built at the eastern end of the lake in Surat Thani province under a Royal project of King Bhumibol Adulyadej to generate hydroelectricity to need into the national grid.
Cheow Lan is a massive water resource. Egat, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, estimates the lake to contain an estimated 5.639bn m3 of water.
Under the proposal, B3.85bn was to be spent on constructing pipelines from Cheow Lan to supply Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi
At that time it was estimated that Phuket’s demand for water would grow 10% year on year, expected to reach 132,000m3 per day by 2017 – representing only 0.8% of the volume in the reservoir.
“The plan to pipe water from Cheow Lan to Phuket was submitted again and again,” Mr Graisorn explained.
“However, it was repeatedly refused on environmental grounds. Cheow Lan is located within the Khao Sok National Park and there was concern that any construction in the park would have an unanticipated environmental impact,” he said.