Manage Mekong River hydropower better: public forum renews call

By Viet Anh   December 8, 2021 | 04:58 pm PT
Manage Mekong River hydropower better: public forum renews call
A fisherman on the banks of the Mekong River outside Nong Khai, Thailand, January 10, 2020. Photo by Reuters
A public forum on Mekong River water flows has renewed calls for all governments, developers and operators of hydropower projects to share data for improving cascade dam management.

This was a highlight of the 11th Mekong River Commission (MRC) Regional Stakeholder Forum held November 29-30, an MRC press release said Wednesday, adding it was the first-ever public forum organized on "this critical issue."

Representatives from China revealed plans for the Lancang River cascade, a centrally controlled dam operation that includes an automatic hydrological forecasting system that can address environmental and management issues relating to native fish species, water quality and monitoring fish passage.

However, with more dams set to come online, the representative of Oxfam called for a stronger and urgent sharing of operational regimes of hydropower projects with the public.

Civil society organizations believe information on flows including the release schedule is necessary for communities living alongside the Mekong River and depend on it for their livelihood, the rep said, adding: "Making this data available in simple language is equally important."

Dr An Pich Hatda, MRC Secretariat CEO, said the MRC has been stepping up efforts to establish a regional mechanism for coordinated basin operation management, particularly through its 10-year Basin Development Strategy. He said the MRC aims to ensure that decisions on flow releases are supported by transparent data and information sharing between countries.

"We want to ensure that there is improved predictability of flow changes for basin communities."

According to MRC, there are currently 88 hydropower projects in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) with around 12,600 MW of installed capacity. Some 15 dams with a total capacity of 1,600 MW are under construction and by 2040, hydropower is forecast to generate more than 30,000 MW in the LMB.

Forum participants heard about some of the challenges arising from the increasing prevalence of hydropower plants and the regional effort to tackle them.

Laos recently commissioned the Nam Ou Cascade Control Center, the first in the nation, to manage internal and external communications to mitigate flood risk from dams. The center is an information sharing conduit for regional and local authorities and government agencies which will monitor and coordinate hydropower projects over 15 MW.

With respect to the 684-megawatt Sanakham dam that Laos has proposed to build on mainstream Mekong, other stakeholders expressed concerns about its transboundary impacts. They recommended an economic and financial analysis of the project together with an assessment of bank erosion and other environmental and socioeconomic effects.

Attendees notably from Thailand urged Lao and Thai policymakers to increase the number of monitoring stations to assess the impact on downstream Thai communities who they said live close to the proposed project. They also called on the project developer to ensure dam safety and minimize unforeseen flood emergencies to protect local communities.

The Sanakham hydropower project will be located between Xayaburi and Vientiane provinces, approximately two km upstream of the Thai-Lao border in Loei province. The project is estimated to cost more than $2 billion and will be developed by Datang (Lao) Sanakham Hydropower company, a subsidiary of China's Datang International Power Generation Co. Ltd.

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