Destruction of Reservoirs on Tonle Sap Set to Begin Anew

Officials said yesterday that they would soon recommence government efforts to remove or scale down man-made irrigation reservoirs around the Tonle Sap lake, an initiative started last year in a bid to restore the lake’s flooded forests, which form important fish habitats.

Tonle Sap Authority Secretary-General Chan Youttha said that starting next month, crews would send about 20 heavy machines to sites in the six provinces ringing the lake in order to remove or downsize reservoirs.

In recent years, businessmen have moved into the lake’s protected floodplains and built hundreds of unlicensed reservoirs, which they use to irrigate large rice farms.

“We will resume our work in ear­ly February because at that time the soil is dry enough to move the machines,” Mr Youttha said.

“We will use 800 poles to demarcate zone three,” he said, referring to the lake’s core protection zone, in which no reservoirs are allowed. In the outer-lying zone, only small-scale reservoirs are permitted.

He added that officials had al­ready planted a large number of posts last year to demarcate the Tonle Sap’s 640,000-hectare protection zone.

Government work crews temporarily halted their crackdown in July, after wet season rains prevented demolition work.

The Tonle Sap Authority last year destroyed 30 reservoirs and scaled back four others in an effort to protect the shrinking flood­ed forests, which are important breeding and feeding grounds for the lake’s vulnerable fisheries.

Sieng Sothang, deputy governor of Battambang province, said that last year officials set up 3-meter-high poles in the province and that they would now place smaller, 2.5-meter-high posts to demarcate stretches of the perimeter.

“The demarcation is to ensure that it is a protected, flooded forest area,” he said.

Ky Sovannarith of the Fisheries Administration estimated that 80 of the remaining man-made reservoirs in the province are located on the floodplains and, hence, slated for demolition or downsizing.

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