Filling Lake Could Cause Flooding, Study Finds

Continuing with a controversial plan to fill in most of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake could result in heavy flooding in the municipality’s Russei Keo district, according to a new report written by a group of in­dependent researchers.

“It should be recognized that not only will flood depths and levels increase, but the frequency of flooding will also increase,” the report states in one of eight conclusions listed.

“Flood levels for a given return period under existing conditions will occur more frequently following development [of the Boeng Kak lakeside area]. The combined effluent and stormwater drainage system in Phnom Penh means that any flooding will have serious water quality and public health implications,” it adds.

The December 2008 report, ob­tained Wednesday, comes a little more than four months after Russei Keo residents complained of the “worst ever” flooding in their part of the city.

Residents blamed Shukaku Inc, the private firm that is currently filling in the lake with sand and funneling the lake’s water to Toul Sangke commune using a series of pumps that are supposed to ultimate-

ly send the excess water into the Tonle Sap river.

“It is acknowledged that…

[municipal officials] have given consideration to the future development of Phnom Penh, as eviden-

ced within the city masterplan,” the report states in its conclusions.

“In the north of Phnom Penh, this masterplan includes a network of drainage canals interconnected with the lakes. However, there is no evidence to suggest that detailed hydraulic modeling of such a system has been undertaken.

“It, therefore, cannot be determined if any future constructed drainage elements will be effective in protecting property from flooding,” the report states.

In its list of recommendations to company and municipal officials involved in filling in Boeng Kak lake, the report says additional community consultation and more transparency in the construction process are necessary, and that models of drainage systems must be made public in order to avoid adverse consequences.

The recommendations go as far as saying that Shukaku should consider calling off the entire project.

“The proposed filling of Boeung Kak should be reconsidered in light of the impacts it will create and the lack of consistency” with the municipality’s masterplan for development, the report states.

David Pred, director of the Cam-

bodia country program for housing rights organization Bridges Across Borders, said the study had been conducted by Australian independent researchers who were asked by “a number of organizations” in Cambodia to investigate the effects of filling in the lake.

“The report confirms what many people have long suspected—that the filling of Phnom Penh’s largest natural lake will worsen a city flooding problem that has already be-

come intolerable during the rainy season,” Pred wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.

“The problems could be mitigated if proper drainage systems were installed, but the fact that the problem is hardly even acknowledged in the [environmental and social impact assessment] prepared by Shukaku raises very serious concerns about the company’s flooding mitigation plans.

“The filling of the lake should be halted until those plans are made public and the people living north of the lake are reasonably assured that this project will not leave them underwater every rainy season,” Pred wrote.

Government authorities on Wednesday swiftly rejected the report, however, questioning the credibility of the researchers and insisting that Russei Keo would not face increased risks of flooding as a result of the filling of Boeng Kak.

“Where are the Australians from?” Phnom Penh Municipal Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong asked, saying City Hall had work-

ed with French experts in addressing issues related to filling in the lake, though he didn’t provide details.

“I want to be clear, they should contact the Ministry of Water Resources. Without the Ministry of Water Resources, I cannot accept [the report],” Pa Socheatvong said of the independent research report.

“We have already compiled the master plan correctly,” he added.

Mao Hak, director of the Water Resources Ministry’s hydrology resources and meteorology department, also said he did not think flooding posed a serious threat to the city.

He said the ministry had recommended the municipality build two 10-square-meter pipes designed to remove excess water.

“As far as I know, City Hall is working to solve the issues and prepare the sewage systems,” he said by telephone Wednesday.

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