Law drafted to save underground water


Source: Myanmar Times 

Date: 6 April 2018 

A Law for the conservation of Myanmar's underground water resources has been drafted and is hoped to be enacted in the near future, said U Ba Shwe, an adviser to the Ministry of Construction and the National Water Resources Committee.

"We have been working on developing this law since 2014 with government departments and experts, led by the ministry's Urban and Housing Development Department, and we are on the seventh draft of the law. It will be sent to the cabinet and to the Hluttaw. If the Hluttaw reviewing committee thinks the law is OK, it will call for public suggestions. I hope it will be soon," he said on Sunday.

The 1930 Burma Underground Water Act is the current legal provision governing this issue, but it is not applied properly and requires many amendments to reflect the current situation, said U Ba Shwe.

"The British government enacted the law to support sustainable use of groundwater," he said. "They also appointed a water officer to monitor its use and to issue licenses to pump groundwater after checking to make sure it would not damage the environment".

After 1988, the YCDC was no longer able to provide sufficient water supplies to the city, so residents began digging unlicensed tube wells.

"The 1930 act is a good law but it was designed for the government of that time, and now should be modified to reflect the current state of things," U Ba Shwe said.

Experts are concerned about groundwater pumping, especially in Yangon, where speedy urbanisation has occurred in a delta area that is at risk of salt intruding on freshwater resources.

"The water supplies of most of the high-rise housing projects relies on tube wells. We don't know yet how much groundwater potential there is, how much pumping is going on and the water quality of tube wells in Yangon. We shouldn't let this issue go on," said U Ba Shwe.

As of 2018, the YCDC supplies water for about 40 percent of Yangon's people, or about two million of the 5.2 million people in the city, according to the YCDC.

About 60 percent of the 201 million gallons of water delivered daily by the YCDC is lost in the aging distribution system. Damaged meters, illegal connections and extra connections contribute to the loss, according to the department.

The population of Yangon will reach an estimated 10 million by 2040, and the YCDC plans to expand its water supply system to 80 percent of city residents by then.

U Cho Cho, chair of the National Water Resources Committee advisory group, said that consuming underground water could have a negative impact on the environment.

He said the unsustainable use of underground water in Yinmarbin township in Sagaing Region lead to the exhaustion of underground water resources in the area.

"There were artesian wells in Yinmarbin. Mass pumping of underground water for agriculture in that area resulted in exhausting fresh water. I saw the impact when visiting there last year," he said Sunday.

It is also important to manage aquifer recharge in town planning to conserve groundwater resources, he added.

U Cho Cho said as city areas expand, aquifer recharge points have decreased in Yangon.

"Relying on fewer aquifer recharge areas and using large amounts of groundwater may lead to the exhaustion of fresh water. There is salt water intrusion in tube wells in Ahlone and Kyeemyindaing areas, which are close to the sea," he said.

Geologists U Soe Thura Tun previously told The Myanmar Times that there are great risks of land subsidence in downtown Yangon if too much water is pumped by wells or if groundwater supplies fail to keep up with the growing population.

"The geology of the soil under Yangon is 'younger alluvium', which is susceptible to sinking. The same type of soil can be found in western Mandalay," he said.

There is no official government body tasked with monitoring ground subsidence in Myanmar, and no one knows whether it might have already occurred in parts of the country, he added.

Moreover, using unqualified groundwater in plantations in Butalin and Chaung Oo townships of Sagaing region affected the yield of the farms, said U Cho Cho.

"Salt contamination in groundwater decreased production in those farms," he said, adding that there have been reports about the impact on human health of arsenic and fluoride contamination in groundwater in Bangladesh and India.

"So, it is important to test regularly the quality of groundwater if we are going to use it," he said.

The state newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar said that as an agro-base country, water utilization for agricultural sector stands for 90% while industry and domestic use is only about 10% of the total water use.

The total utilization of the nation's water resources is only about 5 percent of the potential, it said

Experts said current groundwater use in the country has not reached critical levels, but the issue should be considered to plan for the future.

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