“Last Friday [July 17], I went to see Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan to talk about the major issues of problems with water supply and flooding in Phuket so it can be raised with the Cabinet,” Governor Narong told reporters at Phuket Governor’s House on Monday evening (July 20).
“On Wednesday [July 22] I have to go join a meeting in Bangkok about these issues, to talk to a Cabinet committee about, for example, turning seawater into freshwater, the water-supply pipeline from Phang Nga dedicated to serving Phuket and the development of the Bang Neow Dum reservoir,” he said.
Ironically, also to be tabled are strategies to prevent flooding on the island from heavy downpours during the rainy season.
The move to take the island’s water-supply woes to the top follows Phuket Provincial Waterworks Authority (PWA) Chief Graisorn Mahamad confirming that no work has begun on the Phang Nga pipeline, considered a vital part of staving off future crises.
“After this project was approved by Cabinet in September last year, some officials came to inspect sites in Phang Nga and Phuket where the project was to be carried out, but since then nothing has been done,” Mr Graisorn previously explained to The Phuket News.
The project is bungled up in red tape, Mr Graisorn explained.
“The water-supply pipeline project has not started any part of construction because it is still in the process of setting the terms of reference (TOR), which defines the purpose and structures of a project as well the cost of materials and equipment. These aspects of the project are under the responsibility of the Provincial Waterworks Authority main headquarters in Bangkok,” he said.
Noting the importance of the island’s water-supply needs for the tourism industry and the failure to get the project started, Kongsak Khongphongsakorn, President of the Thailand Hotels Association Southern chapter, has already sent a formal letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha requesting that the issue be given immediate attention.
“I am worried about the delay in starting this project. Construction will take years. People need water every day, and we have less water in the main reservoirs and limited private water sources in Phuket,” Mr Graisorn said.
“Mr Kongsak agrees that the water-supply pipeline from Phang Nga is important for Phuket’s tourism development and urges that this project start as soon as possible.
“The water-supply pipeline from Phang Nga is necessary for people who live here and for future tourists here. We need water to fill our reservoirs so we are ready for droughts in the future,” he said.
Even without the usual number of tourists on the island due to the COVID-19 pandemic, by April this year the water level at the Bang Wad reservoir in Kathu – the island’s main reservoir with a capacity of 10.6 million cubic metres of water – sank so low that an old shrine that had not been seen since the drought of 2002-3 became visible again. At that time, on Apr 18, Mr Graisorn confirmed the reservoir contains just 80,000 cubic metres of water.
Even heavy rains during the beginning of the rainy season this year did little to help.
PHANG NGA PIPELINE
Under the plan explained by Mr Graisorn to The Phuket News last year, 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.
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 3,000 cubic metres 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.
Last year, people in Phuket used about 80mn cubic metres of water, Governor Narong said on Monday.
About 60% of that supply came from the reservoirs, heavily depleting them, while the remaining 40% came from canals and private water sources, he said.
The rapid expansion of urban communities and the rising number of tourists to Phuket, which are expected to return in the years to come, have placed the island’s water-supply reserves under increasing pressure, the Governor noted.
“Also, the water use rate will increase by 12% per year. Predictions expect the water demand to increase to 112mn cubic meters per year by 2032,” he added.
Governor Narong today is to propose three solutions.
First, is the consideration of building another desalination plant on the island. Phuket already has one desalination plant, just north of Karon. However, that plant was built as a test project and was always intended to only supplement water supply to the southern west coast tourist areas, namely Kata and karon, but now also feeds southern areas in Patong.
“The project to produce freshwater from seawater is currently still in the study phase, but if completed it will increase water supply by 6.57mn cubic meters,” Governor Narong explained.
“Second, the water-supply pipeline from Phang Nga, if completed, will increase the volume of tap water produced by 49mn cubic meters,” he added.
“Also a long-term plan is the expansion of the Bang Neow Dum reservoir. If completed, the reservoir will be able to store 10mn cubic metres of water,” Governor Narong explained.
The plan to expand Bang Neow Dum reservoir’s current capacity from 7.2mn cubic metres was announced in April last year, but now also remains stalled by bureaucratic red tape, despite a request for a budget of only B20 million.
The delay has seen workers miss the opportunity to excavate earlier this year, when the island suffered its worst drought in over a decade, allowing workers easy access to carry out the works.
“If these projects are moved on and the budgets are approved so they can be completed, then the island’s water-shortage problems will be solved for the long term, and add to the island’s sustainability,” Governor Narong said.