A community-based approach to integrated water management has yielded clear socio-economic benefits in North Vam Nao Island in the Mekong delta province of An Giang, experts said at a workshop held last week.
The model can be applied effectively in other areas, they added.
The workshop gathered irrigation experts from different agencies and departments in 15 cities and provinces nationwide to exchange notes on the benefits, challenges and lessons learnt from a pilot scheme implemented on the island.
The two-phase North Vam Nao Flood Control Scheme covered around 31,000ha, including an agricultural production area of 24,000ha, in the deep flooding section of the Mekong between its Hau and Tien distributaries in Phu Tan district and Tan Chau Town , said Do Vu Hung, deputy director of the province's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The 36.65 million AUD (38.7 million USD) scheme was carried out from 2002 to 2010, with 18.36 million AUD (19.4 million USD) granted by AusAID and the remaining funded by the State budget.
Planning for the scheme was based on community consultations and technical sub-studies to ensure that the real needs of local residents are met.
Seven existing sluices were renovated or replaced and nine new sluices constructed.
A 100-km ring dyke system with a height of 5.7m, based on water levels during the record flooding of 2000 plus 0.5 metres, was upgraded.
Local residents raised funds to cover the construction of compartment dykes and road systems in 24 flood protection areas, which were divided based on hydraulic boundaries.
The community also played an important part in the scheme's two-level management, including a scheme management board and 23 compartment management boards.
The scheme management board, headed by leaders of nine relevant agencies and departments, controlled all scheme assets, including ring-dyke, boundary canals and sluices as well as contracts with an irrigation management company for the system's operation and maintenance.
The scheme management board established a standing office for day-to-day management.
The compartment management boards were established as social organisations with voluntary farmer members. Leaders of compartment management boards were also members of the scheme management board.
"Farmers have a voice in decision making through the 23 seats on the scheme management board that meets every six months," Hung said.
Farmer management boards managed their compartments' cropping plan and tertiary assets, including canals, roads and small dykes, raised funds for maintenance and renovation and supervised their water service cooperatives.
Individual farmers separately contracted with water service cooperatives to pump irrigation and drainage water from the main canal system.
"The area is now fully flood protected by dyke and sluice systems," said Hung, head of the scheme's management board.
"The unified operation and management of the flood control system has enabled year-round production over the whole project area, with three drops per year instead of two drops," he said.
"The compartments are flushed every third year to ensure the quality of soil and water resources."
The scheme has increased the annual paddy production by 44 per cent due to the third crop farming during the flooding season, Hung said.
It has also helped protect local residents and property from flood damage, and reduced poverty, he added.
Nguyen Ngoc Anh, director of the Southern Institute for Water Resources Planning, said community participation in planning, operation and management was decisive in the success of the project.
Most participants said that unified community-base management under hydraulic boundary system and the contract model can ensure that the scheme has sustainable economic, social and environmental outcomes.
However, they also stressed the importance of having continued funding for operating and maintaining the system after the project ends this year.
Other experts said that adverse effects on water and soil quality as well as the ecosystem as a whole might occur due to restriction of water movement in and out of the project area.
Environmental assessment and monitoring should be constantly carried out so that swift measures can be taken, they said.
The pilot scheme will be applied to another integrated water management system in South Vam Nao island in the province's Cho Moi district, said Huynh The Nang, deputy chairman of the provincial People's Committee.
The scheme, with an estimated cost of nearly 1.2 trillion VND (61.5million USD) funded by the State bonds is in the planning phase and is scheduled to start implementation in the first quarter of next year, Nang said.
The experiences and lessons learnt from the North Vam Nao scheme would be useful for the development of the new scheme in South Vam Nao island, he said.