The Mekong River Commission says a recent public forum urged Mekong governments, developers and operators to share information and data on hydropower operations to improve managing cascades of dams on the river.

In a statement release in Vientiane Wednesday, the MRC Secretariat said the forum — the first of its type — also discussed recent assessments of potential cross-border impacts from the Sanakham dam proposed by Lao PDR for the Mekong mainstream.

“Stakeholders expressed concerns about its transboundary impacts, recommending an economic and financial analysis of the project together with an assessment of bank erosion and socioeconomic effects,” the statement said.

“Attendees notably from Thailand urged Lao and Thai policymakers to increase the number of monitoring stations to assess the impact on downstream Thai communities whom they said are living close to the proposed project.

“Stakeholders also called on the project developer to ensure dam safety and minimize unforeseen flood emergencies to protect local communities.”

The MRC said it had done technical reviews of the proposed dam and rapid assessments of its immediate downstream impacts, urging measures to minimise the negative impacts and enhance the project’s benefits.

Lao Vice Energy and Mines Minister Sinava Souphanouvong said his government “stands ready to work closely with other MRC Member Countries and relevant stakeholders to ensure a meaningful public participation and conclusion of the Sanakham project.”

MRC chief executive An Pich Hatda said the forum was important to “gather feedback and concerns to be considered by the MRC Joint Committee before passing them to the developer and the notifying country to address.”

He said concerns and recommendations would be reflected in a technical review of the proposed project to be submitted to the Joint Committee, comprising senior Cambodian, Laos, Thai and Vietnamese officials. Under the Mekong Agreement of 1995, the committee oversees consultations om proposed dams on the Mekong mainstream.

The Sanakham dam would be located between Vientiane and the northern Lao province of Xayaburi — only 2 kilometres upstream from the border with Loei province in Thailand. Costing more than US$2 billion, it would be developed by Datang (Lao) Sanakham Hydropower company, a unit of China’s Datang International Power Generation Co., Ltd.

The MRC noted that the Lao government had recently set up the Nam Ou Cascade Control Centre — the country’s first — to manage internal and external communications to reduce flood risks. Aimed at regional and local authorities and government agencies, the centre will monitor and coordinate hydropower projects over 15 MW.

The Sankham dam would generate 684 MW. That compares with 88 hydropower projects in the Lower Mekong Basin with installed capacity of about 12,600 MW. Fifteen dams with a total capacity of 1,600 MW are now under construction and hydropower is forecast to generate more than 30,000 MW in the basin by 2040.

The MRC said the online forum on Nov. 29 and 30 attracted more than 200 people each day including government officials, hydropower developers and operators, international and national hydropower associations, community representatives, civil society groups, MRC development partners and the commission’s dialogue partners — China and Myanmar.

“Representatives from China provided latest information about hydropower development and management in the Upper Mekong River,” the statement said.

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

Dr. Hatda said the said the MRC had been stepping up efforts to establish a regional mechanism for coordinated basin operation management.

“We aim to ensure that decisions on flow releases are supported by transparent data and information sharing between countries,” he said. “We want to ensure that there is improved predictability of flow changes for basin communities.”

The statement said the experience of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in river management between the U.S. and Canada showed that the challenges of infrastructure, climate change and the environment were “equally applicable” to the Lower Mekong.

“Adopting best practices that include collaborative management between the two countries and their national and local agencies, infrastructure maintenance and community outreach, will improve common basin management outcomes,” it said.

Source: Agency Kampuchea Press

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