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Irrigation scheme sparks thoughts of intriguing new visitor attraction

Welcoming Visit Laos Year 2018, Vientiane Times publishes a series of feature articles and
photographs inviting you to experience the authentic nature, culture, history and hospitality of
South-East Asia’s Simply Beautiful Laos.

We clambered into rescue boats at 10am on a partly cloudy Thursday in September. With  five members of an expert irrigation team in each of the two boats, our trip was not about searching for or rescuing flood victims, but to see how the Huay Makhiew river is fed and how it could benefit local people in the future.
The river is situated on a plain and winds like a snake for 20 kilometres on the outskirts of Vientiane. Its source is the That Luang marsh and it joins the Mekong River at Huay Makhiew village.

The team explores an inlet of the Huay Makhiew river.                                    --Photo Somxay

The Huay Makhiew river is now being turned into the main water source to feed farmland in both the wet and dry seasons.
The government will invest 5.5 billion kip (US$6.7 million) in creating this irrigation system in southern Vientiane.
Our boatman suddenly twisted the accelerator and we rapidly moved through the water away from our starting point below a steel bridge.
“Yes, it is indeed possible that this could be a place that tourists would enjoy,” I thought to myself.
The water level was high after the monsoon rains and the roots of the bamboo clumps that dotted the waterway were submerged.
 “What is your view as members of the media?” one of the irrigation project’s technical team asked us.
We all responded positively, saying that we thought the area had good potential for tourism, because it was close to central Vientiane and easy to get to.
National Project Coordinator for the Flood and Drought Management and Mitigation Project, Dr Khamphachanh Vongsana, was in charge of the field trip, which allowed media personnel to see the natural beauty of this small river, which varies in width from seven to 15 metres.
The waterway, which looks like a canal and has several sluice gates, flows slowly through islands of bamboo, leafy Pterolobium platypterum Gagnep, and other water plants.
The canal is home to a community of wildlife and is noticeably quiet in the absence of human voices, but is a productive fishing ground for water birds.
White egrets disturbed by our boats flew away in the direction we were travelling. It seemed they were unhappy that we had disturbed their fishing, but on the other hand for us it was a welcome intrusion as their flight showed us the direction of the stream.
The snaking river changed shape as it meandered on its way. Some of the small islands we encountered resembled roundabouts and the seasonal floodwater that ran into the wetlands created small lakes.
The islands made it difficult to determine the true direction of the stream. We also had to forge our way through thick patches of morning glory and water hyacinth.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s Department of Irrigation is working with the city administration to build five pumping stations along this waterway and to upgrade sluice gates.
Upon completion, the system will have the capacity to irrigate 1,500 hectares of farmland in the districts of Hadxaifong, Pakngum, and Xaythany, where paddy production is expected to increase to 20,000 tonnes. It is believed that about 10,000 households of 61,000 people will benefit from the system.
The scheme is part of the Flood and Drought Risk Management and Mitigation Project.
Aside from his expertise in irrigation, Dr Khamphachanh told us about his thoughts on the possibility of bringing tourists to the area. He pointed out that the water level would be maintained in the dry season and would not fall much below the wet season level of four metres, although it could drop by 30 to 40 centimetres.
Others on the field trip agreed that the waterway would make a suitable recreational site, saying that boat trips could be offered.
If this were to come to fruition, the river would not only be a source of water for farmland but also a tourist drawcard that could generate additional revenue for Vientiane.
Boat trips in this area would surely prove popular, as the waterway is a lot closer than the nearest boating alternative on the Nam Ngum River.
The realisation of this initiative depends on whether the local administration is prepared to invest in its development. Funding will be required to build facilities and treat the city’s waste water which is currently discharged into the That Luang Marsh at the start of the river.
But boat trips and the chance to be out on the water would be an alluring addition to the otherwise rather limited recreational opportunities in Vientiane.


By Somxay Sengdara
(Latest Update October 9, 2017)

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