Mekong River Project in China, new dam plan sparks warning

Bangkok Post 25 December 2006

By Julawan Doloh

Vientiane – Construction of yet another hydropower dam in China could have a big impact on downstream countries, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) has warned. MRC chief executive officer Olivier Cogels told the commission's meeting in Vientiane last week that China was building its third dam, Xiaowan dam, on the Mekong river.

Located in its southern province of Yunnan, the Xiaowan dam will be finished in 2010.

The MRC chief said he was concerned about the dam's ecological impact on the downstream nations – Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – because it could intensify problems  caused by two existing Chinese dams, Manwan and Dachaoshan. He said excessive etention of waters by the dams could cause a drought in countries further downstream.

Mr Cogels repeated his call for China to join the MRC for better management of the river.

''At present, the MRC can only exchange technical information on the possible impact of the Chinese dam on nations in the lower river basin. China is taking a bigger part in the negotiations but has not signed up as a member [of the commission],'' he said.

The MRC has installed 17 water detection stations along the Mekong river from China downstream to Vietnam.

These stations are designed to measure flows, water levels and water quality in the river and send online data to the four nations in the lower basin.

The information will help the countries better predict the water situation and come up with a plan to handle changes in water level and quality.

The Mekong river discharges 475 billion cubic metres of water annually and its basin covers 795,000sq km of land.

Pienporn Deetes, of the Southeast Asia River Network, said Thai villagers living along the Mekong river had been hurt by water fluctuations and losses in the fish population since the Manwan and Dachaoshan dams opened.

Another dam could bring more trouble.

China, she said, stores and releases water from the dams without consulting downstream countries sharing this international river.

Chiang Rai's Chian Khong and Wiang Kaen districts were the worst-hit areas.

''Water fluctuations and degradation of the Mekong river ecology will be more severe once the Xiaowan dam is completed and starts storing water,'' she said.

She urged the Thai government to alert Beijing about the impact of its dams on downstream countries and negotiate with China about possible mitigation measures.