"Villagers here want the dam. Only conservationists oppose it. They are not stakeholders like local people," said Rabieb Philuk, an assistant village head.
Nirat Sriwongwan, a village head at Moo 2 in Nakhon Sawan's Lat Yao district, said villagers who support the project come together at public hearings to tell the dam's opponents they need the dam to ease their problems.
"We have experienced both drought and floods in the past, but this year the dry season will really bite and we have to dig for groundwater to use. If the dam is built, it will supply water for farming throughout the year and it would also not flood too much," Mr Nirat said.
He said local residents would work together to plant new forests to replace forested areas which would have to be cleared in order to construct the dam.
On April 10, the cabinet approved the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry's proposal to construct the 13 billion baht dam.
The construction is expected to take eight years, with soil science studies, geological explorations and surveys beginning this year.
The Royal Irrigation Department (RID), the project developer, says building the dam at the rim of Mae Wong National Park in Lat Yao district will solve flood and water shortage problems in the Sakae Krang River basin, covering Uthai Thani, Nakhon Sawan and Kamphaeng Phet.
The RID says the dam will reduce the water flowing into the Chao Phraya River basin in the rainy season and irrigate 291,900 rai of farmland in the dry season.
The dam will inundate about 13,260 rai of protected forest in the Mae Wong National Park in Nakhon Sawan, which is linked with a major forest complex in the western part of the country.
Proposed in 1984, the dam has been delayed for many years as the project's environmental impact study had failed to get approval from the National Environment Board.
Environmentalists have strongly opposed the dam, saying it would damage one of the country's most pristine forests, home to many rare wildlife species.
Mahin Wongsa, a project management official of the RID, admitted Kaeng Lan Nokyoong, a rapid which is a tourist attraction in the Mae Wong National Park, will vanish when the dam is built.
But he said the dam itself would become a new tourist spot which would generate income for local residents.
He said about 30,000 rai of new forests will be planted to replace forest areas destroyed in the proposed dam site.
He said residents had agreed to help with the reforestation plan. More than 200 million baht will be allocated to grow new forests.
Somkiat Prajamwong, director of the RID's project management office, said the dam will be able to hold 258 million cubic metres of water for irrigation purposes in times of drought or as a water catchment area to prevent floods.
The dam will also become a source of hydroelectricity, he said.
''Building the dam has benefits and disadvantages. But if we look at only the disadvantages and do not build it, local people will lose many opportunities,'' Mr Somkiat said.
''The people must take centre stage along with looking after the environment,'' he said.
But Sasin Chalermlarp, secretary-general of the Sueb Nakhasathien Foundation which spearheads the protest against the Mae Wong dam, said construction of the dam would do more harm than good.
He said the RID did not specify which areas would be used for reforestation and there was no guarantee that wild animals would migrate to the new forested areas. He slammed the RID's proposals as vague.
Mr Sasin said the foundation will press ahead with its protests against the dam, and that it has now filed a complaint with the Central Administrative Court asking it to halt the project.