Balancing-out floods and droughts: opportunities to utilize floodwater harvesting and groundwater storage for agricultural developmentin Thailand

Thailand?s naturally high seasonal endowment of water resources brings with it the regularly experienced problems associated with floods during the wet season and droughts during the dry season. Downstream-focused engineering solutions that address flooding are vital, but do not necessarily capture the potential for basin-scale improvements to water security, food production and livelihood enhancement. Managed aquifer recharge, typically applied to annual harvesting of wet season flows in dry climates, can also be applied to capture, store and recover episodic extreme flood events in humid environments. In the Chao Phraya River Basin it is estimated that surplus flows recorded downstream above a critical threshold could be harvested and recharged within the shallow alluvial aquifers in a distributed manner upstream of flood prone areas without significantly impacting existing large-medium storages or the Gulf and deltaic ecosystems. Capturing peak flows approximately 1 year in four by dedicating around 200 km2 of land to groundwater recharge would reduce the magnitude of flooding and socio-economic impacts and generate around USD 250 M/year in export earnings for smallholder rainfed farmers through dry season cash cropping without unduly compromising the demands of existing water users. It is proposed that farmers in upstream riparian zones be co-opted as flood harvesters and thus contribute to improved floodwater management through simple water management technologies that enable agricultural lands to be put to higher productive use. Local-scale site suitability and technical performance assessments along with revised governance structures would be required. It is expected that such an approach would also be applicable to other coastal-discharging basins in Thailand and potentially throughout the Asia region.