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West Baray water source under irrigation pressure

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Villagers restore a canal that drains water to the crucial West Baray. ANA

West Baray water source under irrigation pressure

The Apsara National Authority (ANA) has urged farmers living in the Angkor area to grow dry-season rice crops once per year only to reduce risks of water overuse that could drain too much water from the crucial West Baray.

The West Baray is one of the largest hand-cut reservoirs ever constructed, dating back to the 11th century.

Tim Chhom, technical officer of the ANA’s Department of Water Management, said West Baray has a number of important roles. It helps prevent flooding and supplies water to farmers in five communes of Siem Reap town and four communes of Puok district.

It also serves as a clean water source for the Siem Reap Water Supply Authority and supplies groundwater to keep the water stable and the land from subsiding, which helps to protect the temple’s foundations and facilitates groundwater flow to people in the area.

He said West Baray was also important for the farming community who use its water in the irrigation system.

According to Chhom, the presence of a farming community near Angkor Wat was established long ago, but in 2014 the government handed over the management of it to the ANA, which then continued the water distribution work for the farmers.

Chhom said that now, however, ANA officials have grown concerned with the farmers’ overuse of water to grow dry-season rice crops multiple times.

He said the ANA had already provided enough water to supply the farmers – that is until they expanded their rice fields, which causes demand for water to keep increasing.

“Before the ANA’s management, the total area of these farmers’ rice fields were only 13,000ha. But now the later dry-season rice [under cultivation] was actually double,” he said.

“Because of this, the ANA calls on all farmers to grow irrigated rice crops only once per year and then grow cash crops after that instead to reduce the risks to the West Baray water supply, because the water must fill many roles and [too much farming] will lead to water shortages for everyone in the area,” he said.

“Whether officials open the water gate more than once in a year depends on the available water supply. We also try to explain to the farmers that they must try to grow crops at the same time so that we can release water just once for all of them. We try to avoid releasing the water many times because that could waste it,” Chhom added.

Sok Mok, chief of the community of farmers using the West Baray irrigation system, told The Post on March 2 that farmers’ yields from the use of the West Baray water this year had improved. He said the result was due to farmers receiving sufficient water easily and in a timely manner.

“There are still people who are used to farming twice a year, growing both dry-season rice and rainy-season rice crops. Farmers who do grow twice are often those fortunate enough to be living along a canal or water source. Those who are far from water sources depend on rainfall, which is uncertain and the second harvest may be fruitless,” he explained.

Chea Mounch, a farmer in Ta Chett village of Puok district’s Samrong Yea commune, said that this year his 5ha of rice fields had provided yields worth about 15 million riel ($3,600).

“Without the irrigation water, we cannot do dry-season crops so this field depends entirely on West Baray,” he said.

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