This year’s drought crisis continues to cause serious concern as the water contained at dams across the country is at an all-time low. There is a possibility that the current amount of water may be insufficient for various sectors such as in industry and agriculture if mishandled. Last year’s irregular and shortened rainfall, along with soaring temperature rises, caused the rivers to dry up with lower-than-average water levels. Until June, there is a chance that precipitation will return to normal but most dams in the north and north-east region of Thailand have already reached critical levels and for these regions the average precipitation this year is lower than 2015. It is therefore crucial to manage the drought situation carefully in order to mitigate any damage to industrial zones throughout Thailand, especially at-risk areas such as the North.
Officials in charge of the crisis such as the Royal Irrigation Department, remain confident that there is enough water to last until the next rainy season, which is predicted to occur around June-July.
The Royal Irrigation Department announced that the combined volume of usable water in 33 major large-scale dams across the country stood at about 10.3 billion cubic meters, or 22% of total capacity. It is feared that energy security could be affected if the drought persists, according to Thongplew Kongchan, the department’s deputy chief. The devastatingly low water levels at the Ubonratana dam in Khon Kaen could lower electricity output for the provinces in the Northeast.
Water demand for main industrial zones remains under control. From the reports of the Royal Irrigation Department on April 1st, the current demand and supply of water in Chonburi and Rayong are 29 MCM (million cubic meters) and 120 MCM from various pump stations in the region respectively. The department also stated that the water levels in four major dams of the Chao Phraya River are “enough for domestic consumption and sustaining ecosystems until July.”
The water supply utilized by industrial estates would not be interrupted
Jakkarat Lertopas, deputy governor of the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT), reassured that the water supply utilized by industrial estates would not be interrupted, as the estates are recycling their water and using underground water sources.
The IEAT has urged industrial areas to have a water management plan for each estate. The recommendations include reducing water usage, reducing waste water and acquiring additional water storage from various channels such as private water companies.
Comparing Cumulative Precipitation from 2006 to 2016 to the 30-year Average
Overall, precipitation in 2016 is lower than the 30-year average (from 1981 to 2010) for all regions(①). For the North, Northeast and Central regions, the average precipitation this year is lower than 2015, except for the southern regions and the East where precipitation is slightly more than 2015(②). The South has much higher precipitation compared to 2015, but not more than 2011 when the terrible flooding occurred, 2012(③).
Table 1. Average precipitation according to region: *Note: All regions is the average precipitation by calculated by meteorological methods according to area.
Fig.2: Graph Comparing Cumulative Precipitation from 2006 to 2016 to the 30-year Average
Fig. 3: Water Storage Levels Map Showing Regions with Precipitation and Water Storage Percentages of Main Dams in Thailand: Overall, water storage in most major dams is moderate to low. Storage in dams supplying the Chaopraya River Basin such as the Bhumibol Dam, Sirikit Dam and Pasak Cholasit Dam are low but not critical. Most dams in the north-east region of Thailand have already reached critical levels. It is predicted that the drought situation will worsen in the north-east during the next few months. There are 25 major river basins, of which are at a historical low.
From the end of April until May, there is a tendency for low pressure to develop at the Andaman Sea. This will evolve to become a tropical depression, storms and cyclones in the direction of the East heading west. The result is heavier rain for the Northwest, Central, Eastern seaboard and West coast of the Southern regions. Therefore, the public is advised to check weather forecasts from the Thai Meteorological Department. May is the period which marks the season change from summer to the rainy season. Weather disturbances this month will occur, alternating with thunderstorms and sweltering heat in some areas.
In June, tropical cyclones normally appear around the Northwestern Pacific Ocean, moving past the Philippines towards the South China Sea. The cyclones would intensify the Southwestern monsoons all over Thailand, including the Gulf of Thailand, to experience more rainfall, especially in the East and South of Thailand (East Coast).
Table 2. Expected rain (millimeters) and rainy days (days) comparing to normal: http://tmd.go.th
Near normal means +/- 10 of normal. Slightly above/below normal means +/- 10-25% of normal. And above/below normal means +/- more than 25% of normal.
Rain in April and May will likely increase, but slightly lower than normal. Until June, there is a chance that precipitation will return to normal. The following table shows the predicted rainfall for the coming months by region.
Case 1: If agricultural areas are expanded for 20%, water shortage will be 33,982 MCMY.
Case 2: If agricultural areas are the same as it is now, but water demand for domestic consumption, tourism and industry increases, water shortage will be 17,368 MCMY.
Case 3: If agricultural areas are the same as it is now, but water demand for domestic consumption. tourism and industry increases while water use efficiency is also augmented by 10%, water shortage will be 12,566 MCMY, which is approximate to the current shortage.
Fig. 4: Current Water Demand Domestic consumption is roughly 2,460 MCMY (million cubic meters per year), industry and tourism is 2,396 MCMY, agriculture and power generation is 53,043 MCMY and ecological maintenance 12,359 MCMY.
Thailand is among the top countries that use water. Although the forecasts remain positive hopefully by June the raining, it is critical that Thailand extends its water management plans for future references.