The Monsoon And Pattaya’s Water Crisis
As I write a monsoon is raging. It is the most powerful monsoon this year, to date that is. I expect you have read of how the natives rush out in the rain when a monsoon comes and jump about for joy. I’m afraid, now that I’m into my umpteenth monsoon season over the last ten years or so, to tell you that is bull shit. But that is not what this article is about. It’s about the incompetence of our politicians.
Our friend the monsoon.
Monsoons have characteristics that seem to almost give them personality. At the beginning of the season the monsoon clouds come in off the sea at low altitude. The rain from them is tepid, and indeed, especially if the rains have come late people, including me go out into the rain and jump about like idiots. But that’s it. As the season progresses the clouds come in higher and higher until each monsoon is made up of thunderheads up to 45,000 feet above the ground. Now at 45,000 feet the air temperature is minus 50 degrees centigrade. At initiation this mid to late season monsoon rain is ice crystals which melt on the way down. So this rainwater is very cold. If you stand out in it you will be very cold and wet in moments, even though the air temperature might be as high as plus 30 degrees centigrade at the time. Within minutes this chilled rained water drops the air temperature ten to twenty degrees. This sudden temperature change makes the air heavy and it rushes away to find warmer lighter air, hence the cold wind.
Who nicked our monsoon.
Whilst Northern provinces were deluged to the point of flood and landslides and Bangkok citizens cursed local flooding the monsoons came late in Chonburi. Unusually high local air pressure deflected our monsoon as it slid along the isobars to and Bangkok which got an overdose. Our monsoon came so late in fact that we ran out of water. Back in farangland we talk of the reservoirs being low, very low, having hose pipe bans and conserving water. In Chonburi, when the monsoon comes late, very late, the reservoirs are, how shall I say it, empty, yes that’s it Empty. You’re a farang and don’t believe it, so your ride your motorcycle to the nearest reservoir to check the extent of the exaggeration. What do you see? You see baked dry mud and dead fish, millions of them. No water, not even a puddle1 Why? Because it’s a 110 degrees in the shade, that’s why. When the reservoir ran dry, there were puddles, plenty of them, but in the intense heat the puddles evaporated in an hour.
At home, I’ve no water, and the tap stopped running three weeks ago. I order up a water tanker from Sitta-Heap, twenty miles away, it comes, it fills my tank for one-hundred and fifty Baht.. When the tank was empty I sent for the tanker again. It didn’t come. Now the Sitta-Heap water was being bought up by the big hotels. One of Pattaya’s popular clubs was buying 20,000 liters a day, the big hotels even more.
Another Pattaya Black Market Resurfaces.
By now Pattaya had a hysterical black market in water. Every hood and chancer, or man Thai who was entrepreneurial enough to catch the main chance, and happen to own a beaten up old truck, purchased a five hundred gallon tank and an inch and half pump together with necessary hose and went into the water business. He (they) rigged up their trucks with this gear a patrolled the streets of Pattaya, looking for the vulnerable. The smaller bars and the poorer households were desperate for water. These ruthless watermen had no trouble finding customers. Their price for five- hundred gallons of brackish water was whatever they could get for it. Most would try for five hundred baht, though the average actually paid was around 300 baht. Much of the water was stolen from farmers, ponds and lakes, one even heard tell of swimming-pools being drained during the night, leaving householders on the posh farang estates scratching their heads in the morning.
One day a freak storm came through; I saw my neighbors’ frantically collecting rain water in anything that would hold it. The next day was hot and sunny again. I went to the hardware shop and bought thirty feet of plastic hose, some jubilee clips and some plastic rain water fittings. I also bought two new dustbins for storing a little extra for things like washing the patio and watering the plants.
At home I rigged the rainwater hardware up to the guttering connected up the inch and half plastic hose and in turn connected it’s other end to my empty water storage tank. Each day thereafter I would sit on my roof terrace watching the sky, looking for clouds that might bring rain. Rain didn’t come. The sky stayed obstinately blue and clear, day after day.
In Pattaya the situation became close to desperate, by now the city water company had the mains water supply turned off for three weeks. Political heads prepared themselves to roll. The authorities started talking of desalination plants to purify seawater for domestic use. Pattaya City Council even formed a committee to look at recycling brackish water and commissioned foreign experts to present budget prices. This was the politicians shim shamming again, they’ve been in this situation before, and they’ve had the discussions before. In the case of the desalination plant I have good reason to believe that the city council discussed it as early as ten years ago. And that’s a far as it got. For the politicians it’s all about political imperatives, not the water or the people.
God Bless Firemen.
All this time I was buying drinking water at elevated market prices. Then one day a fire engine came down our road. I ran out to see who was on fire. A fireman hailed me, shouting ‘heb nam, heb nam (have water, have water). I screamed back at him,’ mai chai, mai chai’ (not yes, not yes) which is the way you say no in Thai. He leapt off the engine and came running to my house hose in hand and a big grin on his face. Within minute the firemen had pumped seven-hundred and fifty liters of clean water into my tank for free. They told me that it was one of their duties to deliver water to the poor during serious drought. These great guys had driven their fire engine a hundred miles to suck water out of and inland lake, bless their rubber boots.
For the first time since I drew my pension in May I was grateful that it is a meager sum. That is why I choose this house, and live amongst ordinary Thai people. Mostly they are working class poor and folk. And so my humble abode brought me good fortune. English friends of mine that live on the posh estates that were built for the foreign residents, are not so lucky, they were still without water in their tanks.
Our King is a Rainmaker.
Just as the last of my ’poor-man’s water from the fire-brigade was dwindling away there was another freak storm. This time induced by the Banglamung city council. (Political desperation had set in, the local nursery farmers were in trouble, if nothing was done real soon the hotels would be having problems feeding the out of season Chinese tourists before they set off for their daily massage!). The city purchased fifty-thousand dollars worth of chemicals, hired a couple crop dusting aircraft and sprayed the clear blue sky at ten thousand feet with these chlorines and nitrates. Remarkably, to me at least, although there was not a cloud in the sky, clouds started to bubble up. Within two hours of these chemicals squeezing moisture out of a clear blue sky it started to rain. My heath Robison plumbing filled my tank with rainwater in minutes, and so it did from time to time until the monsoons arrived in Chonburi two months late. I offered up a prayer of thanks to HM the King of Thailand, president of the Thai rainmakers, from whom came City Hall's Inspiration.
The Sting in the Tail!
At last Chonburi was getting regular monsoon rains. You could almost hear the sharp intake of air as the politicians sucked in long and slow whilst tearing up their resumes.
The relief of our politicians was premature, they’d barely chance to enjoy it, when, hot from the Chinese diplomatic bag, came a letter from the Chinese government complaining about Pattaya’s poor water quality and of their concerns of the threat a holiday in Pattaya is to the health of their citizens. As I write this paragraph I can visualize the line-up for the gents toilets in Pattaya City Hall. The fact is the water quality here is still appallingly bad and there is little that can be done about it in the short term.
The Chinese are appeased for the time being, as are we the residents of sunny Pattaya.. Why? It is because something good did come out of the political embarrassment. It is a project to build a pipeline bringing river water to the city. It was due to be finished this month. An additional project to did out a local reservoir is also under way. Tongue in cheek, we are all watching and waiting. Why on earth didn’t they build it ten years ago?
Pattaya’s water supply problems are not over, the piped river water and the deepening of a reservoir are merely punctuation marks in decades of abandoned studies, political side stepping and the mismanagement of water resources in face of the obvious. That is the continuing exponential growth of Banglamung’s industry and the growing pains of one of Premier Thaksin’s pet project; the rapid expansion of all Thai tourist resorts, in his quest to double the head count of the tourists visiting Thailand each year.
Now everyone is longing for the end of the monsoons. This should happen in two or three week’s time. We don’t need them anymore, the reservoirs are full and the farms are sodden, and our politicians are polishing their rhetoric for next years water crisis in Pattaya.
Soon we will have warm predictable weather again. Hooray! However, I can’t help wondering if it will be another ten years before City Council revisit the issue of desalination plants and water recycling again.
Interesting stuff about he rain….but less political comments please.