Drought is a serious issue for an agricultural country like Thailand, which was hit by the worst dry spell in 20 years at the turn of 2019 and 2020. In this issue of All Around Plastics, we will take you to Baan Mabchan Community in Klaeng District in the province of Rayong, whose successful and efficient water management not only serves as a model for other communities but also enabled it to avoid water shortages and survive the crisis.
Identifying and solving the root of the problem
Located in the National Reserved Forests of Kachet – Phe – Klaeng, Khao Yai Da covers an area of 28,937 rai and is a watershed that supplies water to seven sub-districts in two districts. However, after its designation as a timber concession area and a series of encroachment that led to monocultures in various parts of the forests, the abundance of the once-lush Khao Yai Da began to deteriorate. Its high biodiversity of smaller and larger trees that covered the ground gave way to farming areas with only a single layer of tree canopy, which impacted the watershed ecosystem in a number of ways.
Without layers of canopy to reduce the impact of raindrops on the ground, the topsoil became compacted and less absorbent, making it easier for flash floods to be triggered when it rained. Also due to soil compaction, rainwater could not seep into soil layers and feed into streams after it rained and could not trickle into underground water reservoirs, leading to the issue of water stress. This is not to mention forest degradation and drought, which further intensified wildfires.
As villagers were severely affected, community leaders began tackling the root of the problems. They started conserving these forests, putting out wildfires, and revitalizing the watershed area by removing parasitic vines and repopulating the forests with local trees that created layers of canopy, which could help reduce impact on the topsoil and prolong the time rainwater reaches the ground so that it could be better absorbed.
Despite concerted efforts between the community and the Royal Forest Department to reinvigorate the watershed area above Baan Mabchan Village, it still continued to experience flash floods in rainy seasons and droughts during dry spells because there was no tool to speed up the forest revitalization. It was not until 2006 that the communities around Khao Yai Da noticed the success of the check dam construction project that SCG undertook with Baan Sam Kha Community in Lampang and decided to contact SCG for assistance, which led to the blended check dam construction project that began in 2007.
Benefits of check dams
Check dams are valuable tools for accelerating forest recovery that help retain moisture in an area. Especially important are blended check dams, which take advantage of natural materials in slowing down water flowing down steep slopes such as mountains and allowing it to seep into streambeds and the soil layers in both sides, thereby adding moisture to the forest, contributing to the overall lushness, providing wildlife with all-year-round water supplies, and ultimately restoring the ecosystem of the forest.
In the fifth year after check dams were first built (2012), significant changes could be observed; the forests were visibly greener and lusher. This was borne out by an index of forest recovery – data from satellite imagery that utilized the reflection of lights of different wavelengths to gauge forest health.
The increased humidity or moisture in the air has led to the return of several long-lost plants, such as the sugar palm, which yields soft edible seeds, as well as various animal species, with bears becoming a more common sight for the villagers. The check dam construction in Khao Yai Da is an ongoing project, and the dams are regularly maintained to keep them in good condition.
Developing towards community research
Apart from continuously building check dams and restoring watershed areas, SCG joined hands with the Thailand Research Fund (TRF) in 2017 to encourage residents of Baan Mabchan Community to identify and analyze factors contributing to drought as well as formulate plans and solutions by themselves through local research.
Strong community leaders play a vital role in ensuring the continuity and productivity of the local research of Baan Mabchan Community. With the shared goal of creating sufficient and sustainable water supplies, coupled with the body of knowledge that Dr. Pongsak Wittawatchutikul, consultant for the SCG Conservating Water for Tomorrow Project, Chemicals Business, SCG, has condensed into readily practicable guidance for them, the villagers are motivated to incorporate field research into their daily routines. Using modified equipment from household appliances, they record daily amounts of rainfall, evaporation rates, and temperatures to calculate the amount of water from natural sources, which is then deducted from the amount of water used by the community for household consumption, agriculture, and animal husbandry, as indicated by their water meters. This not only gives the villagers an overview of how their water situation changes in each period of time but also enables them to analyze and predict the amount of water in months to come based on real data.
Furthermore, all the water sources in the community, including natural sources and reservoirs, were surveyed and mapped out. In this process, it was found that Bo Luang, a public water reservoir, had not been allocated for use, which led the villagers to seek grants from the “SCG Helps 108 Communities to Overcome the Drought Crisis” Project. This initiative was a collaboration between SCG, the Utokapat Foundation, the Hydro-Informatics Institute, and Siam Kubota, in which solar cells were applied to water pumps to improve resource efficiency.
Ground rules for water use
Because the community has experienced delayed rain and recorded unusually low rainfall since mid-2019, coupled with its local research that shows a clear sign of an upcoming drought in 2020, community leaders have called a community meeting to find solutions and, in compensation for the low amount of water from natural sources, formulated ground rules to ensure there’s sufficient water for all. For example, piped water is alternately supplied to plain areas in the morning and to those in the hills in the evening. For each unit of water beyond the allocated quota, the user will be charged twice the usual rate right from the very first unit. These stringent measures demonstrate the villagers’ mutual understanding and willing to cooperate in the interests of their community.
Fostering the local economy
Thanks to this success, not only has the community been able sustainably shield itself against drought, but the sense of solidarity has also inspired them to develop Mabchan into a community-based tourist destination and create new products and ecotourism activities. The villagers have also established an environmental conservation group and an Enduro club, consisting of young locals who take off-road courses and patrol their forests on “big bikes,” which helps deter encroachers. All of these initiatives play an important role in developing Baan Mabchan Community and its forests as well as fostering the sustainable growth of its local economy.
Those interested to learn more about the water management of Baan Mabchan Community can contact Village Headman Wandee Intraphrom at Tel. 089 -248-1204 and Thongchai Pongsila at 089-805-5744 for more information.