On a boat sailing through the still waters of the Noi River, a tributary of the Chao Phraya River in Thailand, Miura-san, a senior male engineer from a Japanese engineering consulting company, grows increasingly excited about the legendary Dutch irrigation engineer Homan van der Heide, who designed the basic plan for the entire water infrastructure of the delta in the early 20th century (Ishii 1978). At the moment, we are traveling in the dense and complicated network of watercourses in the western part of the upper Chao Phraya Delta. Here a maze-like network of small channels connects the Noi with the Chao Phraya. Although this entire delta area has long been the object of human intervention, the dense vegetation on the banks and meandering watercourses seem far from an artificial landscape.
Miura-san is comparing these seemingly chaotic channels with the map in front of us (figure 1). More precisely, he is comparing the canal network of the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya River, whose tributaries appear orderly and grid-like on the map, with the labyrinthine watercourses of the western bank, where we are traveling. The delta, which has been cultivated to become these two contrasting areas – the carefully ordered network of canals of the Chao Phraya’s eastern bank, and the more chaotic waterways of the western bank – is especially effective as flood management systems go. The maze-like network in the west functions as a huge retention zone to store excess water, protecting the canal grid on the opposite bank.
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