Dam a threat to river fishing

Bangkok Post 20 October 2010

By Apinya Wipatayotin

Cambodian relations at risk, Kraisak says

The construction of the controversial Xayaboury dam on the Mekong River could hurt recently improving relations between Thailand and Cambodia as it would damage the latter's fisheries, Democrat deputy leader Kraisak Choonhavan says.

The 1,260-megawatt dam is located about 150km downstream of Luang Prabang in Laos. A majority of the power produced from the project by Thai firm CH Karnchang would be exported to Thailand.

Mr Kraisak, chairman of a panel on political development and public participation, said at a seminar on Monday the dam's construction would cause grave harm to the ecosystem and way of life of millions of people who live along the river.

Tonle Sap, the largest fresh water lake in Cambodia and a river system that is a major source of food and income for Cambodians, is likely to bear the brunt of the impact from the Xayaboury dam.

"This environmental issue can develop into a conflict between the two countries," Mr Kraisak said.

Environmentalists have voiced concern that the dam - the first hydropower one to be built on the downstream Mekong - would block the flow of water into Tonle Sap.

This would prevent fish and other aquatic animals from migrating between the Mekong and Tonle Sap.

Terra, a Bangkok-based environmental group, released a report saying the dam could lead to the extinction of at least 41 freshwater fish species. At least 2,000 people would be displaced and 200,000 others would be affected by its construction.

Mr Kraisak urged the government to deal carefully with this "very sensitive" matter.

Although the dam belongs to Laos, Thailand is a key player in the project, he said.

"As a neighbouring country, we should support Cambodia to achieve food security and sustainable development," he said.

Environmentalist Montri Chantawong of the Project for Ecological Recovery said Loei's Chiang Khan district would also suffer from the dam, which would be built about 200km away.

Mr Montri said once the dam was operational, the water level in the Mekong would change in accordance with the operation of the sluice gates rather than naturally.

This would have a negative effect on fisheries and agriculture along the river's banks.