This Major World City Is Running Out Of Water



By SAMANTHA PAGE, ClimateProgress

In Thailand, every year has a hot season, a dry season, and a monsoon season. But authorities are saying the most recent dry season — which should have ended in June — has turned into a full-fledged drought, and drinking water reserves in the nation’s capital of Bangkok only hold enough for another 30 days.

More than 14 million people live in the Bangkok metropolitan area. The city gets most of its drinking water from the Chao Phraya river, which runs through the center of the city into the Gulf of Thailand a few miles downstream. During a drought, seawater can flow upstream, turning the river brackish, Reuters reported this week. The local water company is not equipped to purify salty water.

Not only was the hot season extra hot this year, the country also started the dry season with below-normal reserves. Last November, when the rainy season ended, the three major dams used for water storage had about 60 percent as much water as usual for that time, Thanasak Watanathana, governor of the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority, told Reuters. The water level in some city canals is more than a meter below the “alarm level,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

“Right now, there is only enough water in the dams to distribute for about 30 more days — if it doesn’t rain,” Thanasak said. Reuters also reported that the water service has asked Bangkokians to limit their water use.

Two Bangkok residents, though, told ThinkProgress they have not heard anything about water conservation efforts.

People aren’t worried enough, said Bangkok resident Narut Sutakawatin. “Then again, I’m not an expert. This might eventually be nothing,” he wrote on Twitter. He pointed to data from the government’s water-tracking app. The first shows Pasak dam, in central Thailand. The second is Kundan Prakanchol, in Nakhon-Nayok province, northeast of Bangkok.

It’s true that low reservoirs are certainly not a new problem for Thailand, which has long proposed improving its water system to prevent catastrophic flooding and to preserve more water for the dry times. But it’s getting worse, experts say, and climate change threatens to exacerbate the issues.

Drought and flooding are two sides of the same climate change coin. As temperatures increase worldwide, water evaporates more quickly and dry spells become worse. At the same time, warm air can hold more water vapor, so rains can be heavier. In the past five years, Thailand has experienced its worst droughts and floods of the past few decades.

As if that weren’t enough, Bangkok, built on marshland and originally crisscrossed with canals — which are now mostly filled in — sinks nearly 4 inches each year, according to the Climate Institute. Coupled with rising sea levels, this means Bangkok could be underwater within 10 to 15 years, the group reported.

And cycles of intense drought and flooding can exacerbate that process. Just last week, Thai newspaper the Nation reported that roads are sinking and collapsing in the drought-stricken province just north of Bangkok.

While drinking water in the capital is running low, the whole country is facing damaging effects of drought. Thailand is the rice capital of the world, and the crop is expected to be low this year, after farmers have already been asked to delay their planting in central Thailand. The disruption could lead to protests and economic woes, farmers have said.

Thailand’s electricity system also depends on water supplies. The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) issued a warning this week that the letting too much water out of dams would be problematic.

Reprinted with permission from Climate Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress


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