It is now absolutely necessary for everybody - be they farmers or not - to save fresh water for consumption and daily use, at least until mid-August, when more rain is expected, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said yesterday.
The government ordered a big cut yesterday in the amount of water released from four key dams - Bhumibol, Sirikit, Kwai Noi and Pasak Jolasid - from 28 million cubic metres to 18 million cubic metres per day, so there is more left until the rains come.
The PM said rice growers and other farmers would be compensated as the reduced supply was hurting their farming. The situation could get worse if the water supply is not replenished by seasonal rain by mid-August, he warned.
The premier was, however, sympathetic to rice farmers who have been hit hard by the prolonged drought, but pointed out that others had also been hit, namely vegetable and fruit growers. However, the top priority now, he said, was to make sure there was enough fresh water for consumption and daily use for everybody.
"Please don't start farming just yet. We'll help you and make it up to you later," he said, after yesterday's Cabinet meeting to tackle the water crisis in which the Agriculture and Interior officials were ordered to adopt measures to help farmers by offering them temporary jobs to boost their income.
Due to the continued impact of El Nino, Cabinet was also worried that the drought could drag out till next year when the new farming season starts, in April.
Also yesterday, the Cabinet appointed Suthiruk Rawiwan, a deputy permanent secretary of the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, as the new chief of Department of Groundwater Resources.
He replaces Praneet Roi-ban, who was moved to the post of inspector general yesterday in a reshuffle of senior officials as the government steps up efforts to tackle problems resulting from the prolonged drought.
Interior Minister General Anupong Paochinda reassured the public that tap-water supply would be sufficient until there is more rainfall next month, but said: "I'd like to ask everybody to save water. It is sufficient, but we should be economical and not use it unwisely."
Jatuporn Buruspas, head of the Department of Water Resources at the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, said everybody needed to help save water.
The government also needed fresh water to keep salt water from affecting the water supply for tap-water production.
For long-term solutions, the prime minister said a major challenge was that the amount of fresh water from domestic sources, especially, the Chao Phraya, has been reduced over recent years so there must be other alternatives to boost the water supply.
Asked if the government would consider setting up a new ministry for the management of water resources, he said it was not necessary at this stage.
Anupong said the government would provide additional water sources for tap-water production, especially for provincial waterworks, adding that governors in the Central region would have to work closely with police and soldiers to ensure water is not diverted improperly for farming at this stage. He said the government had to keep the water supply consistent for consumption and daily use first. "Everybody should save water. In Australia, droughts used to last as long as five to seven years. Even washing cars was illegal there. Our situation is not that serious and we should not panic."
Meanwhile, Bangkok Gover-nor Sukhumbhand Pari-batra said city officials had been working to ensure that Bangkok people do not face a shortage of tap water.
He said the city administration had also ensured that roads damaged by subsidence are quickly repaired. The latest road that developed cracks was one in the Nong Chok district, affected by a dried up waterway nearby.
"Last year, 14 roads in this district subsided due to the drought, but this year we found only eight roads have subsided," he said.