Activists mobilize 300 supporters to protect water reservoir in Sakon Nakhon

SAKON NAKHON – A local environmental group in Sakon Nakhon Province’s Wanon Niwat District is concerned that industrial development might threaten the area’s main water reservoir.

In an event on March 11, a crowd of more than 300 locals gathered at the district’s community hall, vowing to protect the Huai Thong Reservoir from the impact of industrial development projects.

Security personnel from the police and military monitored the event in the district that has become a hotbed of environmental activism in recent years.

For the second time in two years, locals in Wanon Niwat District organized an event to raise awareness of the potential impact of development projects near the Huai Thong Reservoir. The event included a sueb chata ritual in which locals asked for protection of the reservoir.

For almost 30 years, the reservoir has been the main source of water for local farmers, explained local activist Sifong Chantawon. But recently, concerns have been growing that the provincial authorities are preparing to industrialize the area.

In March 2015, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives designated the Huai Thong Reservoir as an official irrigation channel. In an announcement, the ministry noticed the water of the reservoir might increasingly be used for industrial purposes in the future. A new regulation allows for non-agricultural actors to be charged a fee for access to the reservoir’s water supply.

Activists of the “Rak Amphoe Wanon Niwat” group understand the minstry’s announcement as a precursor to industrialization of the area. Ms. Sifong, a member of the group, said people are worried that development projects might impact the reservoir’s ecology and people’s livelihoods.

Local residents not only depend on the reservoir for farming but also make a living through fishing.

Huai Thong Reservoir is one of Sakon Nakhon’s several water reservoirs set up in the 1990s to provide irrigation to farmers during the dry season. The province experiences extreme seasonal variation in monthly rainfall and is often struck by severe droughts.

The “Rak Amphoe Wanon Niwat” activists are known for their ongoing resistance against a potash mine project by Chinese state-owned China Ming Ta Potash Corporation.

Reporting by Satanon Chuenta. Satanon is a member of the environmental protection group “Rak Amphoe Wanon Niwat” in Sakhon Nakhon. This story was first published in Thai on March 15, 2018. Translated and edited by The Isaan Record.