Looking After a Barge in Flood and Drought
This time four years ago (2011), Central Thailand and much of the Chao Phraya watershed was flooded. This year (2015) most of Thailand’s dams have been at less than 10% capacity for over one month. These weather extremes create interesting challenges for the Barge Program.
During the flood year, our Bangplad office was saved from flooding by the fact that the entrance driveway became a river! The floodwaters were able to escape into the main road, rather than flooding our townhouse. The water was so deep in our local area that the crewmen were able to drive the dinghy down the road. Fortunately, because we are a boat, the barge itself was unaffected and was happily floating on top of the floodwaters.
At other times of the year, during dry season or during drought years, we must plan for very low tides and water levels. Sometimes the barge cannot use Mae Nam Noi canal because the water is too low. We may have to change plans to use different piers because there is no water at the intended pier. There have been some mornings when the Captain has called the trip staff to say the barge cannot move because it was stuck on the riverbed!
Humans must live with these constantly changing environmental conditions each day. We must work with the world around us to continue our everyday lives. Barge programmes run year round – sometimes we are hot and dry, sometimes we are wet and dripping, but we are always exploring amazing environments and communities and having fun. To help stay safe during throughout the year, the barge enters a dry dock period, where repairs and checks are made. Our crewmen are supervising this year’s dry dock to keep our barge looking young, despite her twenty years of cruising as a floating classroom.
For more information on year-round trips with Barge Program, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
From floods to drought
by Al Moxon
Thailand is currently embroiled in two apparent extremes. On one hand, the country is suffering one of the worst droughts in decades, with rationing in place for just under one third of the country and worrying claims by Thailand’s Irrigation Department that usable water in dams across the country, except the west, has dwindled to less than 10%. On the other hand, torrential rains have caused flooding in large parts of the country due to tropical depression Vamco with six severely affected provinces and many others impacted. Amongst the worst hit areas are the Khao Soi Dao district of Chanthaburi with large swathes of farmland inundated and 145 households affected, as well as low-lying flooding in the rest of the province. In addition, flash flooding in Rayong has displaced more than 4,000 families and heavy rainfall and high tides have caused extensive flooding in Pattaya with more than one meter of water on some streets and sois.
Needless to say, extreme weather events like these place a real burden on people’s lives, Thai society and the wider economy. Due to water shortages, farmers were urged to defer planting their rice paddies until August rather than June and July. According to the Office of Agricultural Economics this decision is forecast to cost farmers in Thailand’s central belt 60 billion baht (or $1.8 million) and burden them with heavy debts. As one of the world’s biggest rice exporters, Thailand exports more than 10 million tonnes of rice annually; however exports are expected to be reduced by 20% this year due to the floods. World rice prices are likely to be affected as a result.
Unfortunately the heavy rainfall linked to tropical storm Vamco has brought floods but done little to raise water levels or improve the water shortage situation. In Chonburi trawlers were banned from leaving shores of Pattaya and Sattahip, where at least ten trawlers sank and 400 tourists were stranded on neighbouring Koh Lan due to gusty winds and turbulent seas. The weather led to knock-on effects for the local economy. In Pattaya, commercial areas have been inundated causing costly damages.
These weather extremes are consistent with changing weather patterns globally and climate researchers predict that floods and droughts are set to increase in frequency and severity in the coming decades. Proactive planning, allocating adequate resources and adapting to the new environmental conditions through careful management of water supplies, drought alleviation efforts and flood disaster relief will play a key role in managing Thailand’s water resources and making the country more resilient to flooding in the future.
The largest river in Thailand is the Chao Phraya, which runs through the heart of the country and is a vital resource for the development of the country. It is our mission at the Barge Program to raise environmental awareness about the Chao Phraya watershed, its importance as a key water resource for the country and to empower individuals and organisations to change their behaviour and protect the river and all it has to offer for future generations.
By 2025, 1800 million people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds
of the world population could be under stress conditions. This means that we have a responsibility to increase our knowledge about water conservation techniques and viable water sustainability practices. This forms the core of our teaching on the barge and land trips and through these activities we are able to educate participants so that they are conscious about the water they use, ensuring it is a plentiful resource in the years to come.
Very simple and effective advice is given to all who stay on the barge – advice that can be easily incorporated into everyday life. Not flushing the toilet unless it is absolutely necessary can save up to five gallons of water per flush- the same amount as a large office water container! Cutting a minute from your daily shower can save between 547 and 2007 gallons of water per year. When on the barge we encourage groups to take three-minute showers: our handy three-minute egg timer (available for purchase through our website) ensures that everyone is working together to reduce our water usage.
The activity “Water Everywhere?” requires the group to extract quantities of water that are not suitable for human consumption- representing the water in oceans, ice caps and glaciers, soil moisture and the atmosphere combined. Leaving just 1% of the earth’s available water, we typically only take 0.0001% of this from streams and rivers. The groups are asked to consider how we extract water, why we need to be conscious of our water use, how we use it and how we can improve our water sustainability.
Our “Watershed Role-Play” activity demonstrates to the students how everyone contributes to the quantity and quality of water as it flows through a watershed. This prompts students to think about ways in which everyone's "impact" can be reduced. A natural scenario is compared to an adverse human impact scenario and differences in the water quantity and quality are discussed and explained.
The impact of human development and the increase of flooding are integral to our teaching within the barge program and the activity “River In A Box” is a brilliant illustration of the effects of floodplain development. Clay and sponges are used to represent the riverbanks and floodplain, as well as the meandering shape of the river. When human development straightens the river and builds on the floodplain what are the consequences for the people that live there? This activity helps the learner to visualise this problem clearly, its consequences for the inhabitants of these areas and how it can be alleviated in the future.
It is necessary that a large percentage of our activities on barge and land trips have an over-arching water conservation message due to the integral role of the Chao Phraya River. We also have a responsibility to ensure that our impact today on the earth’s water supply does not result in detrimental consequences for future generations.
For more information about Barge Program activities see