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Reservoir destruction thwarted by rainfall

ENVIRONMENTAL officials say heavy rains may force them to postpone an ongoing effort to demolish manmade reservoirs that they claim are lowering water levels and disrupting local ecology.

Chan Youttha, secretary general of the Tonle Sap Authority, said Tuesday that excavators and other machinery used to dismantle the reservoirs had had difficulty accessing the sites through fields and roads soaked by recent rains. If the wet weather continues over the next few days, he added, the project will be delayed until the dry season begins in several months.

“Currently, we almost can’t move our machinery because of the massive rains and muddy roads,” Chan Youttha said. “We will temporarily stop demolishing the reservoirs until the next dry season, but we will continue to be vigilant about cracking down on any newly created illegal reservoirs.”

In April, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the destruction of manmade reservoirs surrounding the Tonle Sap lake, saying that they posed a threat to fish stocks and coastal forest. The premier formalised this order earlier this month, issuing a directive calling for the demolition of reservoirs in six provinces with territory on the Tonle Sap floodplain: Kampong Thom, Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Pursat and Kampong Chhnang.

Since June 25, the Tonle Sap Authority has dismantled 30 of the Kingdom’s roughly 240 unauthorised reservoirs in an effort that has spanned all six provinces, Chan Youttha said yesterday.

Nao Thuok, director of the Fisheries Administration, said that even though full demolition of illegal reservoirs may not be possible during the rainy season, government officials should consider limited work to allow water to flow back into streams and the lake.

“We must target the reservoirs that are obstacles to fish movement and water flow,” Nao Thuok said. He added that water levels in the Tonle Sap lake had been measured at 3 metres lower than last year, and blamed this drop in part on the proliferation of reservoirs.

Some farmers, however, have bemoaned the demolition effort, saying that the reservoirs have increased rice yields and allowed them to harvest their crops in both the rainy and dry seasons.

In his directive this month, Hun Sen also ordered a halt to a range of activities that he said were harming the biodiversity of the lake, including the controlled burning of trees and slash-and-burn farming.

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