A new dam project in Battambang province’s Ek Phnom district is expected to end ongoing drought problems and provide water to villagers farming on more than 10,000 hectares across three districts.
The groundbreaking of the Sala Ta Orn dam’s construction took place on June 14 and was attended by hundreds of farmers as well as government officials.
The $37 million government project will allow water from the Sangke River to be fed to rice fields rather than draining uselessly into the Tonle Sap downstream.
Eam Sambo, chief of Ek Phnom district’s Svay Chrum village, where 350 families farm, said that his village has been battling drought for too long.
“In my village, there are more than 100 hectares of rice fields,” he said. “And like right now, we go moths without rain. Our crops have not spoiled yet this year, but we have a shortage of water to use for the spraying of fertilisers and pesticides.”
“If we have enough water after the project is complete, our rice harvest will be very good,” he added.
The Sala Ta Orn dam will be built in Ek Phnom district’s Prek Norin commune and will involve the building of crisscrossing detour canals and a gate measuring 74 metres.
Battambang Provincial Hall has reported that drought is affecting 9,124 hectares of rice fields and that canals that are part of the project need to be dug immediately.
The canals will bring water from Banan district’s Kamping Puoy reservoir to the dry fields.
Mr Sambo said that with the price of rice rising, the dam project will allow farmers to yield higher harvest and earn higher incomes.
“With the dam, the water will be sufficient,” he said. “Every year, the water from the rain is not enough. The dam will help our rice farming a lot.”
Provincial Governor Ngoun Ratanak, who presided over the groundbreaking, said that the project will bring relief to hundreds of families.
“It will bring water to reserve in Sangke River for use during the dry and rainy season, covering 10,400 hectares of rice fields,” he said. “The whole system, including the 15-kilometre canal, costs $37,086,363.”
“When this project is finished, the expectation is that there will be water reserved in Sangke River and there will be enough water for use in the dry and rainy season,” he added.
Seng Sameh, 60, a farmer in Prek Krauch village, said that he plans to buy or rent more land to grow rice once the project is complete.
“With the new water system, it will be excellent because we can do rice farming two to three times per year,” he said. “If I have enough money, I will buy more rice fields.”
Bol Saroun, a farmer in Prek Norin commune, said that an old dam built under the Khmer Rouge did not work properly and much of the water in the lake drained away uselessly.
“With the new dam gate, it will block the water for our use,” he said. “There used to be dam, but it did not work well as it could not block the water.”
“I plan to do the rice growing for three times after the project is done,” he added. “The project will help a lot because it will cut my costs since I currently have to buy water.”
So Kheng Heng, 55, another farmer in Prek Norin commune, said he is in debt with a microfinance institution because his harvest was affected by drought last year.
“The main the problem that we have is the shortage of water,” he said. “Previously, we could not grow enough rice per hectare and I incurred a huge loss, making indebted to the microfinance bank.”
Long Phorn, deputy chief of the provincial department of agriculture, could not provide a timeframe for the project’s completion.
“We expect that we will get more water sources as well, but we cannot say for sure that we will not run short of water after the construction because the Sangke River also needs water to flow from Kranhoung River in Pailin province,” he said.