In the past four years, families in Anlong Chrey village, in Kampong Speu provinces’s Thpong district, have watched a small multipurpose dam being built at their back doors.
For village chief Soung Pao, 59, who gave up two hectares for the dam – one of three built as part of the Krang Ponley Water Resources Development Project – construction occurred in what literally used to be his backyard.
“When the project began, we were concerned about the lack of water to supply our rice fields,” he said. “We were also concerned about the possibility of being flooded by the new dam.”
More than fours year on, the villagers, the majority of whom are farmers, are now receiving clean, free-flowing water that has helped double their output.
“We can produce rice twice a year as well as use the water for other crops, including mangoes,” Pao said.
Funded by grants and loans through the Korean government’s Economic Development Cooperation Fund and built by Korean company KUMHO E&C, the $27 million Krang Ponley dams replaced outdated and unclean dams built in the Krang Ponley River basin during the Khmer Rouge era.
“We’re happy with the quality of water from the new dam,” Pao said.
Twelve hundred families in Anlong Chrey village and surrounding areas will also be provided with electricity from the dams, which were formally handed over to the government this week in a ceremony.
“Right now, the new dam can produce electricity too,” Pao said.
“Officials from the provincial water resources department have told me villagers will receive electricity from the dam before the Khmer New Year [in April].”
The dams, which are tiny compared to those that grab headlines for their predicted negative impacts, along with supplying electricity, will store a combined 27 million tonnes of water.
Villagers, in theory, already have access to electricity from further afield, but often cannot afford connection fees.
“We can boost our farming productivity and boost our profits by using this water and electricity here,” Pao said.
That’s the hope of Roth Chantho, 35, who owns a small restaurant that by night, as the refreshments flow, morphs into a pub. Lights and appliances inside are powered by a generator that chews through four litres of petrol each day.
“Other people in my village have said the authority will connect us with electricity before the Khmer New Year, but so far, there has been no formal meeting with them,” she said.
“I will expand my small business when they connect me with electricity,” she said.
Exactly when that will happen is unclear. Although the 1,200 households promised electricity remained in waiting this week, Seth Soth, 48, a councillor from nearby Prambei Mom commune, said the project had been supplying tycoon Ly Yong Phat’s sugar plantation with power for the past six months.
“The electricity... has been going to Ly Yong Phat... but not yet to the villagers,” he said, adding that villagers remained positive about the project.
“Electricity will really help development in the area. The water can promote the people’s agriculture. The hydropower dam project will not only provide benefits to people in this commune, but will also provide water to other districts in Kampong Chhnang and Kandal.”
Yong Phat could not be reached for comment, but Lee Hee Joon, general director of KUMHO E&C, said Krang Ponley was a government project that – as he understood it – was only for villagers. “I think [Yong Phat] gets his electricity from Sihanoukville,” he said.
Ear Pisith, a representative of the provincial department of the Ministry of Water Resources, also believed Yong Phat’s electricity came from elsewhere, adding that three dams would also provide water to 600 hectares of fields in nearby Krapeu Trom village. “But we’re asking the ministry... for an irrigation system to flow water even further downstream,” he said.
As for the electricity, Pisith said, that will be connected for free and villagers can use it without charge for a month while authorities ensure everything is functioning as it should be.
“After that, we’ll charge them for it,” he said.
The exact price of the electricity is the detail village resident Jem Try is waiting for.
“If the electricity is the same price as that [from further away], we still won’t be able to pay for it,” he said.