Water Resources Capability Enhancement through Participation and Local Wisdom Knowledge management
Royal Irrigation Department

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Mae Taeng Operation and Maintenance Project is one of Thailand’s large-scale irrigation projects located in Mae Taeng sub-basin, Chiang Mai Province working under Thai Royal Irrigation Department (RID). The Mae Taeng river sub-basin is the main upper tributary of the Ping river system covering nearly 1,932 Square kilometers (477,408 acres). The Mae Taeng irrigation project operates Mae Taeng weir without storage reservoir and utilizes only natural river runoff as its water resource. During wet season, the maximum flow measured approximately 342 Cubic Metres per Second (CMS) and 1.8 CMS minimum flow during dry season. The Mae Taeng project has 58,555 acres irrigation area (23% of Chiang Mai’s 642,979 acres irrigated area) coving 5 districts, 39 sub-districts and 243 villages with 45,000 households holding 180,000 populations. The project irrigation system contains 74.5 kilometers length of right main canal with 61 sub-canals combined into 238.6 kilometers of water distribution system. Agricultural production from Mae Taeng project includes paddy rice, corn, yellow bean, tobacco and vegetables. Water management challenges during dry season have been a major situation due to dry season crop increment. For instance, the year 2011 agricultural area of 17,731 acres used up 91.82 Million Cubic Metres (MCM) irrigation water, the year 2012 agricultural area of 26,449 acres used up 126.45 MCM, and the year 2013 agricultural area of 27,290 acres used up 93.29 MCM. Rice grown in paddy fields consumed the most amount of irrigation water. Thai government Rice Price Guarantee Policy and Rice Pledging Policy stimulate more paddy filed cultivations. Consequently, conflicts of water management amongst the Mae Taeng project water groups were unavoidable. Causes of conflicts arisen and became more intensified because of the way of growing rice by planting it in flooded paddy fields is not efficient, water management regulations were not adhered by water users, and their water usages planning-monitoring system were not sufficient enough. Moreover, several external causes exaggerating more water conflicts were lack of participation amongst water users with other organizations, increment of Municipal water needed to supply 235,059 people of Chiang Mai city, 80,223 people of Hang Dong district, and additional water demands from hospitals, hotels, and tourism activities such as the Songkran festival or Thai New year, the Loi Kratong festival, plus 1,605,639 Thai visitors and 1,240,939 foreigners visiting Chiang Mai every year. Water shortage in Chiang Mai could cost more than 1,245 million USD per year economically and effect many water user sectors including agriculture, industry, tourism, government, education, and environment which lead to accountability of Thai Royal Irrigation department by trying to diminish the mention problems.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
Triggered by increasing variety of water demand purposes and water management challenges, the Mae Taeng Operation and Maintenance Project had come up with the adaptation scheme from fundamentals of Buddhism functions concerning “the Four Noble Truths” which are (1) suffering is to be comprehended, (2) the cause of suffering is to be eradicated, (3) the ending of suffering is to be realized, and (4) the path is to be followed or developed. The project’s achievement schemes after the Four Noble Truths started from encourage water user groups to conclude each group’s list of conflicts, understand and identify on how the conflicts happened, set up the goals to eliminate the cause of mention problems, and then arrange action plans to resolve each conflict in participated manner. Every single step toward their achievement schemes must be carried on by water user groups themselves. Mae Taeng Operation and Maintenance Project officers would not interfere in any decision making steps and only provide technical and educational knowledge support. The action plans were set to comply with each community’s local surroundings, social, and cultural with the schematic frame of trustworthy, understanding, local-wisdoms, community participation, and mutual benefits. After mutual agreements were reached, the Mae Taeng project would enhance their water user’s management plan through a combination of innovative irrigation technology and local wisdom. Irrigation water users association were formed by agreements of the water users majority groups which would then selected their representatives to be water user committee containing local communities, local government administration, government agencies, Chiang Mai provincial waterworks authority, and Chiang Mai Night Safari. Their agreement aims include water conflicts eradication, on time water delivery, and corresponding water distribution. The Mae Taeng project officers are in charge of irrigation gates control of the main canal following the agreed irrigation water delivery plan set by Mae Taeng water user committees. For sub-canals water distribution system, officially elected and appointed examiners are in charge of irrigation system operations. The regulations issued based on the over 700 years old foundation historical customary law called “the Mung-Rai law” which instructed water user communities to adhere and comply with unbiased water distribution rules using small-scale water distribution structures. Earlier, the Mung-Rai law was effectively regulated in northern Thailand regime but later was replaced by newly issued government law causing traditional communities’ confusion which leaded to the conflict encounter between government officers and communities. Moreover, internal struggles amongst water groups themselves were also followed. Therefore, revival of Mung-Rai water distribution system were accustomed and implemented into the current government built water distribution system. The traditional Mung-Rai water distribution structure called “Taang” was selected as additional water dispenser to farm turnout producing more accurate and efficient water distributor than contemporary irrigation farm turnout alone. The Taang is a rectangular weir-like structure water outlet with variety widths ranged from smaller size of matchbox to larger sizes depends on the area to be irrigated which was generally accepted and regulated in northern Thailand regime in previous times. Other than the Taang resurgence implementation, the agreement of irrigation water delivery schedule must be thoughtfully planned in participated manner to create unbiased, diminish conflicts and generate efficient water consumptions throughout the Mae Taeng water user groups.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
In the past, Thai government “Top-Down” approach to water management were implemented and regulated by the Mae Taeng Operation and Maintenance Project with inflexible rules, fixed water delivery schedule through contemporary water distribution system which were difficult to be comprehended by local communities. Mae Taeng local communities are more familiar with self-operated water management using their local wisdoms than Top-Down policies issued by the government which caused further conflicts, and government disputation through depriving them off their right to freedom of expression. Sometime, the communities’ conflicts leaded to demolition of public irrigation structures which provoke more struggles between government officers and communities. The Mae Taeng Operation and Maintenance Project utilized 3 steps participation plan combined with traditional local wisdom to end the mentioned conflicts which are (1) “Co-thinking” through government and local communities’ hearing, brainstorming, and opinion expression, (2) “Co-Acting” through knowledge exchanges between advanced technique from RID officers and local wisdom from communities toward more accepted innovative action plans of the adapted Mung-Rai regulations, and (3) “Co-benefits” resulted from effective collaborations thinking and acting through teamwork, irrigation structures co-maintenance support by communities, equity, and flexibility.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The first key strategy implemented was Water User Group (WUG) establishment as a basic group. The ditch leader and representatives of each group would be elected and appointed. Water user members would then mutually prepare draft for resolution rules and agreement toward the WUG regulations. Afterward, Integrated Water Users Group (IWUG) and administration committee would be formed to strengthen and participate in both agricultural and non-agricultural water usage activities through accepted cultural communities’ manner. Four main objectives required by water users are reliability, flexibility, punctual, and equity which would lead toward trusting community comprehension and generate participated water management, cooperative system maintenance, and auditable activities. The 14 steps of participated water management are (1) each season’s irrigation area were designated to comply with statistical prediction of water budget by water users and RID staffs, (2) water user group representatives submitted required cultivation types and area to RID officers for total water demand calculation, (3) participate adjustment of agriculture area was altered to comply with predicted water budget by RID staffs and water user committee, (4) pre-scheduled water delivery plan were issued in accordance with natural river runoff. If Main canal flows measured more than 10 CMS, all time delivery would be carried out. If Main canal flows measured from 5 to 10 CMS and less than 5 CMS, 2 times and 4 times rotation delivery would be carried out consecutively (all plans are flexible upon committee’s agreement), (5) the leader of each water user group announced pre-scheduled water delivery plan to every water users to be acknowledged, (6) pre-seasonal irrigation system maintenance were commonly carried out by water users, (7) irrigation water were delivered according to the pre-scheduled water delivery plan where appointed sub-canal examiners are in charge of water management, (8) RID officers are set out to monitor and inspect the water delivery results where any arisen problems would be specified, (9) causes of water shortage during water distribution period would be investigated by RID officers while water users were educated on how to inspect the causes by themselves in future, (10) survey and data collection of cultivated area at the end of each season were performed to compare with the pre-seasonal cultivation area plan, (11) water users’ level of satisfaction rate toward water delivery plan, cultivated production, and market price for post-season analysis were concluded, (12) document and results from start to finish of each season were reported for next season’s performance improvement, (13) the water management outcomes were concluded and submitted to water user committee ,and (14) the final report at the end of each season for were put together for public acknowledgement. The mentioned 14 steps of participated water management are proven to be successful as water users’ contribution, teamwork, sense of irrigation system ownership, and knowledge management were accomplished. In future, the solely self-managed Mae Taeng Operation and Maintenance Project by local community would possibly be happened while RID officers will step aside and become technical advisors providing expertise toward further improvement of the implemented strategies.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
To successfully implementing participated water management with a combination of local wisdom and current technology, Mae Taeng Operation and Maintenance Project need their enthusiastic stakeholders to be involved. Water users are willing to maintain and clear up their irrigation system before each cultivation season, adhere to their water user group’s agreements, and follow their water delivery plan. When problem were found, water users will report the situation to their ditch examiner and the examiner will consult with committee for further plan adjustment. Non-agricultural water users are willing to comply with the announced water delivery plan and maintain irrigation structures to their operational condition. The Mae Taeng project officers including local administrative will stand observe, comply with their duties, and try to reconcile arisen conflicts amongst water users. Currently, RID officers are changing their roles from the water users’ leaders to irrigation technical advisors instead. The Mae Taeng irrigation project water user committee has 26 members derived from water users of each majority water users’ group. The committee will plan for water distribution schedule in lateral canals under RID officers’ advice. For Mae Taeng irrigation project’s main canal irrigation system, 29 irrigation zoneman officers and president of water user administrative will cooperate in water management through irrigation regulators. For sub-canal and farm turnout, the local wisdom Taang structures were implemented and regulated by 39 ditch examiners and irrigation project’s volunteers. Water distribution schedule are ranged from constant delivery to 2 or 4 rotations depending on the measured flow in main canal. To date, water user members from 5 districts of Chiang Mai province are working in concert to collect information, inspect and maintain irrigation system, manage irrigation water, and cooperate amongst agriculture and non-agriculture firms toward the conflicts free Mae tang irrigation water society.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The four fundamental resources are used to enhance the participation and local wisdom knowledge management by Mae Taeng Irrigation project and its water users. First is the funding resource which separated into governmental and water users’ funds. Mae Taeng Irrigation project was granted around 1 million USD per fiscal year from Thai government for irrigation system maintenance, major damaged irrigation structure restorations, officials’ employment, and develop water users organizations. Additional 34,000 USD will be governmentally granted each year for water users’ community expense through their mutual agreement including local roadway maintenance, weed control, and canals de-sedimentation. For water users’ fund, the Mae Taeng irrigation examiners will collect 1.25 USD per acre for irrigation water management fee from their members. The total 35,000 USD annual collected fees will be used toward examiners service payment, local cultural activities, sub-canal irrigation system maintenance, and restore minor damaged irrigation structures. The second resource is technical knowledge management. Combinations of Irrigation engineer understanding with local wisdom knowledge were implemented for Mae Taeng Irrigation system design, water distribution structures, and irrigation water management. For instance, the Tanng water distribution structure which has been accustomed and used by local water users for a long time was revived and installed. As a result, Mae Taeng Irrigation water users can operate and manage irrigation water by themselves using their traditional knowledge. Additionally, a geographic information system (GIS) was utilized for advance data collection and monitor cultivation activities. Furthermore, the cooperation research conducted with Mae Taeng Plant Water Usage Experimental Station was developed toward alternate wetting and drying paddy field experiment to use less irrigation water which could save up to 22.43% of irrigation water during dry season. The ongoing alternate wetting and drying fields are expected to expand from 12 acres to the whole Mae Taeng paddy fields implementation in future. The third resource is human resource joining hands toward participated water management including 22 Mae Taeng Irrigation project officers, 146 ditch examiners, 26 committee members, 39 irrigation project’s volunteers, 33 local administrators, 4 sub-district administrative officers, 5 district administrative officers, 1 Chiang Mai municipal officer, and 6 representatives from Chiang Mai provincial waterworks authority, Chiang Mai Night Safari, and other government agencies. Finally, the fourth resource is water management strategy founded on the customary Mung-Rai law which instructed water user communities toward accepted agreements and regulations. The accustomed Mung-Rai law also stimulates teamwork which leads to non-struggle Water User Group establishments. The effective water management strategy outcomes are equality, reliability, flexibility, and punctuality.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
Actual achievement output from the implementation of Mae Taeng irrigation project’s water resources capability enhancement include the adaptation of customary Mung-Rai law toward irrigation water sharing regulation causing cooperation and water users’ acceptance. Moreover, the integration of local wisdom with modern technological knowledge for irrigation water management through the Taang water distributor producing familiarity, sense of ownership, participation in irrigation system maintenance, and increase irrigation water usages efficiency. Additionally, the incorporation between government agencies and stakeholders were established by mean of water user committee for irrigation water management by all water user sectors including agriculture, municipal consumption, tourism, hotel, and hospital resulting in higher water usages proficiency. Furthermore, social conflicts were reduced counting a conflict amongst farmers themselves, a conflict between farmers and irrigation officials, and a conflict between farmers and other water users sectors while social unity was shaped and most of water users’ complaints were eradicated. Finally, the progressively growing economy of Chiang Mai is supported by irrigation water taken from the Mae Taeng project’s Main canal which is important factor for travel industry, municipal, and public services.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
To systematically monitor the mentioned 14 steps of participated water activities, the Mae Taeng project has arranged a set of evaluation and announcement forms to determine progress involved in each step of management which the results would then be analyzed, revised, and applied toward future water management operation improvement. For instance, step 1 is a form for water management result in weeks and months to compare between the plan and actual result. If any problem ascended, the future plan would be revised and announced to water users immediately. For step 2, 3, 4, and 10, the survey forms are used to collect water requirement, crop type, and cultivation area information before and after cultivations for comparison carried out by ditch examiners and irrigation project’s volunteers. The survey results would then be submitted to water user committee for further plan adjustment. For step 5, 6, and 7 arrangements, Mae Taeng project uses the forms for water rotation plan announcement. Hence, water users will be noticed ahead of time to clean up their irrigation system for effective irrigation water delivery. The step 8 and 9 forms are for service satisfactory appraisal by Mae Taeng project officers, ditch examiners, irrigation project’s volunteers, and irrigation committee within the service area. If there is not enough irrigation water delivered, Mae Taeng project officers will carry out investigation by measuring the actual amount of water delivered in the problem area and collect data for further water shortage resolutions. Lastly, the step 11, 12, 13, and 14 forms distributed to collect overall water consumption and cultivation activities information. The information includes cultivation production cost, product cost, market price, and satisfactory appraisal. For instance, the production costs for dry season paddy field increased from 323 USD per acre to 513 USD per acre while the total profits outcome decreased from 523 USD per acre to 321 USD per acre in the year 2011 and 2013 consecutively. Moreover, the dry season rice yield was decreased due to soil degradation caused by intensive agriculture. The report from these steps would lead to inclusive problem resolution for the Mae Taeng project’s next cultivation period. The inclusive report will be announced and discussed by all concerning water user sectors to define better approach for the following year’s irrigation management.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Previously, governmental irrigation water management was carried out by the top-down manner without enquiring real needs from farmers and stakeholders causing problems and obstacles to the Mae Taeng project operation which are described into four following issues and how were they were overcome. The first issue is lack of mutual cooperation in water management since water users have understood that it is the duty of government to operate everything. Therefore, water users did not cooperate resulting in water shortages and conflict apprehensions. Mae Taeng irrigation project began to carry out troubleshooting scheme by establishing small water user groups for participated water management. Moreover, water management committee has been established for all water user sectors to take part in distribution planning and mutual agreements toward equality and fairness achievements. The second issue is Irrigation water management through only contemporary irrigation structures causing problems on insufficient and unfair amount of water delivered. As a result, the traditional Taang water dispensers were selected and integrated with contemporary farm turnout generating more accurate, efficient, and familiar to operate. The third issue ascended after the government has set rules for irrigation water usages which do not fit with local communities’ culture and traditions. To fix the mentioned issue, the revision of government regulations based on the region’s customary Mung-Rai law to reduce water users’ conflicts has been carried on. The fourth issue occurred in developing countries such as Thailand, more than 70 % of the country’s investments are devoted to constructions of foundation infrastructures while the investment toward national’s attentiveness, and reliance motivations have less priority. Therefore reduction of human resources were drop by 38.21 % while water management workload increased. The issue can be solved by encouraging all water user sectors to take part in water management through brainstorming and regular meetings.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
Mae Taeng Irrigation Project’s water management through the participation of integrated traditional knowledge learned from local stakeholders from all sectors with additional information from civil society, private enterprises and governmental firms create substantial benefits for all six social levels described as follows. The first benefit is on farmer water user communities’ level as the generated revenues and profits of Mae Taeng irrigation project increased. In The year 2010, revenue generated was 31.6 million USD with 18.26 million USD profit, and the year 2012 revenue generated was 53.17 million USD with 30.07 million USD profit. The 3 years total profit from the year 2010 to 2012 was 65.77 million USD compared with 11 million USD of Mae Taeng Irrigation project construction cost 50 years ago. Additionally, cultivation area increased from 17,731 acres to 26,449 and 27,290 acres in the year 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively while irrigation water usage conflicts were decreased due to equality and fairness water distribution achievements. The second benefit is on local administrative level including communities’ unity, social relations, increasing cultivation tax incomes, and reducing population as well as labors migration for job searching due to their lack of income during dry season. The third benefit is on governmental and related private enterprises level such as growing income generated from Chiang Mai tourism business up to 1,245 million USD per year due to sufficient water supply, adequate input water for municipal water production supplying 35,000 households in Chiang Mai city and Mae Rim District about 20 MCM per year, Chiang Mai city’s waste water was diluted by 5.70 MCM per year of irrigation water Irrigation provided by Mae Taeng Irrigation project, and stimulate more participation amongst water user communities, governmental and private enterprises. The fourth benefit is for Thai Royal Irrigation Department (RID) including the increasing value of irrigation water from 0.16 USD to 0.24 USD and 0.30 USD per cubic meter from the year 2011 to 2013, decreasing irrigation systems maintenance budget due to water user’s cooperation and agreements, and diminishing conflicts between water users and RID officers. The fifth benefit is on national level through the boosting of agricultural sector’s average income per household form 956 USD for the year 2011 to 2,000 USD in 2013, in addition to the export amount of agricultural products are increasing. Moreover, integrated knowledge management motivates Thailand’s agricultural communities toward comprehend social understanding without conflicts causing water users awareness not to fall for politicians’ make-believe and become their tools. Finally, international level is the sixth benefit including 8.96 MCM water footprint reductions during dry season of each year and support the world food security due to more agricultural production. In conclusion, by transferring the irrigation water management right to water users and by learning from each other between Mae Taeng Irrigation project’s officials and water users would lead to better project’s operation and maintenance, higher water usage efficiency, sense of ownership development, and overall irrigation service satisfaction. Moreover, local wisdoms are preserved and innovative knowledge was generated though the integration of traditional and contemporary information.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Initiatives and sustainability of Mae Taeng Irrigation project’s water management through the participation and integration of local knowledge are described as follows. The social and cultural aspects include simple procedure which can be easily understood by water user communities, can effortlessly be applied in reality, can integrate contemporary knowledge to local wisdom, and can gradually be adapted through learning by doing process. For instance, the integration of the Taang water distributor to conventional irrigation system was not perfectly implemented in short period but required years of trials and adjustments until the integration was acknowledged by water users and performs effectively. The social acceptance started from small group recognition and spread out toward the whole community through productive communication and effective knowledge management which also takes time for relationships to be developed. The developed relationships amongst water user communities were gradually linked together and unified into sustainable Mae Taeng irrigation project water user network. The economic and financial aspect is revealing through the sustainable capital income of Mae Taeng water user association which has been progressively summed up to 6,700 USD per year through the general incomes, fundraising events, and donations from other water use sectors. The Mae Taeng water user association capital income will be wisely spend toward irrigation water management services, general maintenance of irrigation systems, water users’ travel expenses to meet with other organizations for knowledge exchanges , and education toward knowledge and vision enhancement for water management committees. The institutional and governing aspect are the regulations used for administrate Mae Taeng water user association which categorized into two systems including the formal rules for governing the water users upon their membership agreements, and the social rules that generate sense of coordination with other water users, mortified to conduct formal rules violation, and diminish conflicts through the peacefully co-living traditional concept in this regime. The technical aspect described through Mae Taeng irrigation project’s operation and maintenance plan which created from water users and officers’ brainstorming discussion. Mae Taeng project water users were employed to repair irrigation structures in order to teach them on how to maintain their irrigation system. Water users have also been instructed to use irrigation water efficiently for cultivation. Consequently, irrigation maintenance duty transferring agreements were made for irrigation sub-canals and ditches to be looking after by water user communities. This model implementation is recognized as the best practice “co-thinking co-working co-benefits” model and had extended to be applied in many other irrigation projects throughout Thailand.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
Two key successful components of Mae Taeng irrigation project are participated water management and integration of traditional with contemporary knowledge. The lesson learned includes (1) water management by government alone (top-down) will not gain water users’ cooperation, appreciation, and sustainable participation, (2) to create understanding, establish credibility, and produce innovative knowledge idea are complicated and time-consuming. Realization of real problems ascended from each water user group is also necessary, (3) Making mutual agreements is a tool that formally supports water users recognition and accept the integrated irrigation water management of traditional with contemporary techniques through learning by doing process which will finally suitable for water user communities and social, (4) Irrigation service area should be divided into 3 levels including cultivation field level, sub-canal zone level, and project levels. The extent of decision making should also be complied with the divided levels using ditch examiners and irrigation project’s volunteer as coordinators, (5) Successful Implementation of water management must include all relevant sectors as stakeholders including water user society, governmental firms, and private sector, (6) Water users should have mutual and legitimate rights to co-manage irrigation water for their cultivation area, (7) The information report used for decision making should be prepared by irrigation officials and must be easily to understand for the project’s stakeholders. Future aspect of water resources capability enhancement through participation and local wisdom knowledge management by Mae Taeng irrigation project are (1) Generating future generations to continue and preserve productive traditions, culture, and local wisdom knowledge used in Mae Taeng irrigation project water management since the present average age of water committee members are 55 years old and the water committee need new members who love their agricultural based hometown, and change their new generation pessimistic attitude toward agriculture business as low income career through education field trips and instruct them properly, (2) Preserve Mae Taeng irrigation project’s agricultural area from converting into urban area by increasing more agricultural activities income and motivate farmers’ pride toward their profession, (3) Expanding body of knowledge to neighborhood area and interested firms by providing adequate education through field trip visit invitations. Moreover knowledge exchange is encouraged to generate new idea for irrigation water management improvement, (4) Conduct more cooperation research with Mae Taeng Plant Water Usage Experimental Station toward further innovation water management ideas and more effective irrigation water usages for future implementations, (5) Raising funds for water management service since increased water user organization revenue would escalate committee’s motivation, (6) Install local telemetering system for Mae Taeng Irrigation Project which is important in irrigation water management through information available in almost real time allows quick reactions and response form project officers and water user committee. The telemetering system for Mae Taeng Irrigation Project is expected to be implemented by the end of 2015.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Royal Irrigation Department
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Dr. Wachiraporn Kumnerdpet
Title:   Section Director  
Telephone/ Fax:   + (66) 2 669 3775 / + (66) 2 669 1460
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   princethai@gmail.com  
Address:   Office of Public Participatory Promotion, 811 Sam-sen Road
Postal Code:   10300
City:   Dusit
State/Province:   Bangkok

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