Thailand: Environment study on dam decried as flawed

Opponents say report glosses over likely effects
Bangkok Post 22 May 12;

NAKHON SAWAN : Environmentalists have slammed the environmental impact report of the controversial Mae Wong Dam, saying it was poorly conducted and underestimated the likely damage to wildlife and forest ecology.

The project's Environmental and Health Impact Assessment (Ehia) study was put up for final public review at a forum in Lat Yao district yesterday.

Around 1,000 people and some veteran environmentalists attended the forum, organised by Creative Technology Consultant, which was commissioned by the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) to conduct the study.

Opponents and supporters of the 13.3-billion-baht dam hotly debated the pros and cons of the project.

Sasin Chalermlap, secretary-general of forest conservation group Seub Nakhasathien Foundation, said the methodology used by the study to estimate the potential impact on wildlife and on the ecosystem was unreliable.

He said the consulting firm spent less than a year collecting information about wildlife in Mae Wong National Park and assessing the impact the dam would have on them.

"The study gives only numbers of wildlife species but does not give details about measures to mitigate the impact of the dam on wild animals and forest ecology," Mr Sasin said.

Mae Wong Forest is part of the country's western forest complex. It is home to many wildlife species, including tigers, hornbills and peacocks.

The RID, which is the dam's developer, is expected to submit the Ehia study to the National Environment Board for approval in July.

The study estimates there are 280 wildlife species that might be affected by the construction of the dam.

Nearly 700,000 trees, including 116,743 teaks valued at 1.07 billion baht, will be cut to create the reservoir.

A total of 13,200 rai of Mae Wong National Park area will be inundated.

The forest helps store over 91,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and produces 242,744 tonnes of oxygen per year.

Boonsong Kaigate, who headed the Ehia study, yesterday conceded his team did not have enough time to conduct the field study and had to ask for second-hand information about wildlife species from park officials and local villagers.

"Due to the short timeframe, it was impossible to conduct the field study in the forest," Mr Boonsong said.

However, he insisted the Ehia study was reliable and covers all requirements of relevant environmental laws.

Mr Boonsong said the study concludes that the dam's benefits outweigh its negative impacts on the environment and the project is worth the investment.

He said more than 102 villages of five districts in Nakhon Sawan, Kamphaeng Phet and Uthai Thani province will benefit from the dam, which aims to solve problems arising from flood and drought.

The dam will irrigate about 300,000 rai of farmland in Nakhon Sawan.

"Only 2.2% of the Mae Wong National Park will be inundated, while the dam will increase the household income of Lat Yao people to 285,000 baht per year," Mr Boonsong said.

"We will conduct projects in other areas to replace the damaged forest."

He said a wildlife evacuation plan would be drawn up to prevent a repeat of the Ratchaprapa incident, when the 1986 construction of a dam in Surat Thani province without proper measures in place to rescue wildlife led to mass deaths of animals in the area.

Hannarong Yaowalers, chairman of Thai-Water Partnership, said the dam could hold only 258 million cubic metres of water and so could not irrigate an area as large as the RID claimed.

Many local villagers attending yesterday's public forum voiced support for the project, saying it would help increase rice yield in their farmland.

"It's OK to lose some forest if the dam can help improve our quality of life," said one villager.

"We have been waiting for the dam for several years. The NGOs and conservationists should understand our difficulties regarding water shortages."