Reservoir’s Lack of Rain and Repair Puts Wildlife at Risk

For the second straight year, rainfall in the northeast Dangrek mountains has been insufficient to provide water to replenish the lowland Trapaing Thmor reservoir. And the deterioration of the Banteay Meanchey province reservoir’s irrigation system has further led to falling water levels, government and conservation officials say.

While Phnom Penh and Takeo provinces have been deluged with rain recently, the northwest has stayed relatively dry, while high winds have contributed to water levels falling to 65 million cubic meters, compared with     95 million cubic meters the same time last year, said Nhan Bun­thorn, chief of the Ministry of Agri­culture’s wildlife conservation unit.

Besides diminishing the crops of area farmers, the desiccation of the reservoir could also have detrimental effects on more than 180 species of birds, including 18 types of endangered crane, in­cluding the rare Eastern Saurus Crane, said Nhan Bunthorn.

“If the water in the reservoir dries up, we will be worried about the lives of birds as well as hu­man beings,” he said.

Banteay Meanchey Governor Thach Korn acknowledged that the central government should allocate some funds for the repair of the reservoir gates, saying the funds are “urgently needed.” The only action taken so far, he said, was the delivery of sandbags to keep the levees from breaking.

Thach Korn said that at capacity, the Khmer Rouge-built reservoir can irrigate about 20,000 hectares of rice paddy in Phnom Srok, Preah Netr Preah and Svay Chek districts.

Wildlife conservationist Nhan Bunthorn estimated that it would cost $1.5 million to repair the five irrigation pipes and three gates. Each has 15 doors to release the water. But he said that  if the government cannot fully fund the repairs, it should provide whatever it can afford.

However, Veng Sokhon, un­der­­secretary of state for the Min­istry of Water Resources and Me­teorology, said, “If we just fix the water gates without fixing the irrigation system, the repairs will be of no use.”

Veng Sokhon added that his ministry had made a $10 million renovations proposal to the Asian Development Bank, but the project was rejected because of the price tag.

“The donors are only interested in small projects,” he said.

Not only is the reservoir’s water vital to the well-being of farmers and birds, but water levels indirectly affect the fish population in the reservoir.

After the Tonle Sap Lake, the Trapaing Thmor reservoir is considered the country’s next richest freshwater fishery, said Men Phymean, chief of the Ministry of Agriculture’s wildlife office.

Moreover, with drought, poor crop yields force villagers to fish more than they would in a bountiful year.

Around 80 percent of fish stocks in the reservoir already have been depleted as a result of last season’s drought, said Men Phymean. In June some 2,000 tons of fish were caught.

But it is the fate of the 1.3-meter-tall Saurus Crane that has most officials and conservationists worried.

Wildlife experts estimate that the cranes—thought to be the world’s tallest flying bird—number only 1,500 in the world. The birds can be found all over Cambodia, but their primary feeding grounds are in Banteay Meanchey, Takeo and Kompong Thom provinces.

In 1999, the Council of Mini­sters procured a royal decree designating 100,000 hectares in the Trapaing Thmor as a conservation area for the cranes. The decree came one year after the Inter­national Crane Foun­dation and conservationists discovered about 100 of the rare cranes in the area.

Nhan Bunthorn cautioned that if the water levels continue to drop, the wild, edible plants indigenous to the area—known as “plong”—will disappear, forcing the cranes to migrate in search of food.

Current estimates indicate the crane population has increased to around 345 in Banteay Meanchey province, 155 in Takeo province and six in Kompong Thom prov­ince, Nhan Bunthorn said.

 

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