Anyone who has boarded one of the popular boat rides on Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River can attest to its bleak state. The surface is coated in oil spills, the water spotted with plastic bottles and other trash, and the smell leaves no doubt: the Chao Phraya is heavily polluted.
Other pollution hotspots in Thailand include the Lower Tha Chin River, Lopburi River, Lower Rayong River, and Lower Lamtakong River, all of which flow through urban centers with little wastewater treatment as well as areas heavy with industry, agriculture and livestock production. Grave side effects include unsafe drinking water, fish death and freshwater scarcity.
New tool paves way for more holistic assessments
But there’s hope for the Chao Phraya and other suffering rivers: A group of scientists recently met with Thailand’s Pollution Control Department to hand over a new tool for determining the current health of rivers, making it easier to determine where river health should be boosted.
The Pollution Control Department is tasked with monitoring environmental health, including water quality, and has until now relied on assessing 28 physical, chemical, and biological water properties, according to Sunee Piyapanpong, head of the Pollution Control Department. However, she explained at the recent meeting, the water environment is complex and more holistic assessment is needed.
The tool consists of a framework for monitoring river health, and it identifies ten easily measurable indicators that can help determine a river’s health on a scale from ‘Very Poor’ to ‘Excellent’. Unlike more conventional tools, this framework proposes measuring not only biophysical indicators, but also socio-economic indicators, such as citizens’ awareness of river health issues.
Valuable rivers must be protected
“It’s not only about water quality,” adds Mukand Babel, Team Leader and Professor of Water Engineering and Management at the Asian Institute of Technology. “Rather, it’s time we start looking at the broader picture, including how people benefit from rivers. Rivers play critical economic and livelihoods roles across the globe, and if we loose them due to over-abstraction, poor land management and pollution, we also loose this contribution to our societies.”
The framework represents the culmination of three years of collaboration between scientists from the Asian Institute of Technology, working with the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) in the Greater Mekong region, and the Pollution Control Department of Thailand.
“Rivers are one of Thailand’s most precious resources,” says Professor Worsak Kanok-Nukulchai, President of the Asian Institute of Technology. “More comprehensive monitoring and evaluation is an essential first step to improve river health. We’ve greatly appreciated the opportunity to work with the Pollution Control Department of Thailand in addressing this issue.”
The Asian Institute of Technology is continuing its work with the Pollution Control Department to not only utilize the indicators, but also to develop ways in which their results can be put into use and improve river health nationally.