By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
Conservationists cried foul yesterday as the Lao government decided to go ahead with the Don Sahong Dam on the Mekong River.
The hydropower project, to be built in the Siphandone area of southern Champasak Province, could block the only channel available for dry-season fish migration on the Mekong, thereby threatening the world’s largest inland fishery, said a Thailand-based conservationist group.
The run-of-the-river dam will operate year-round and produce 260 megawatts of electricity, mostly for domestic consumption.
In its notification, submitted to the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat on September 30, Lao authorities provided a complete technical feasibility study, including social and environmental impact assessments and a fisheries study for the project, which will be shared with the other MRC member countries – Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Construction work is expected to start in November 2013 and finish by February 2018, with the dam set to begin operating in May 2018.
“Laos submitted the project as an intra-basin water use on the Hou Sahong channel under the process of notification. This will enable the member countries to foresee the project’s water use and any impact stemming from this,” said Hans Guttman, CEO of the MRC Secretariat.
Notification is a process required by the 1995 Mekong Agreement for year-round intra-basin water-use projects and inter-basin diversion projects on the Mekong’s tributaries, and for wet-season water use on the mainstream.
Lao Energy Vice Minister Viraphonh Viravong earlier told The Nation that the Don Sahong Dam is too small to cause any serious environmental impact on the Mekong River. It would generate electricity only for local consumption in the southern region of the country. “In the Lao language, we call it ‘hou’ Sahong, meaning we put generators at a hole in the river to get electricity. We don’t block the river to create a big reservoir,” he said.
However, a group of Thailand-based conservationists yesterday called on Laos to stop the project.
“Laos is once again attempting to evade its responsibilities, while forcing the public in the whole region to pay for the immense damage that the Don Sahong Dam will cause,” said Teerapong Pomun of Thailand’s Living Rivers Siam Association. “Laos must cancel this project, along with the other mainstream dams, before it’s too late.”
In a 2007 review of the Don Sahong Dam’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) report, the MRC stated that the project was subject to “prior consultation”, as the dam is located on the mainstream since its inflow does not comes from a tributary. During an MRC Informal Donors Meeting held in June, 10 international donors, including the European Union, Japan and the US, asked the Lao government to share Don Sahong Dam’s EIA report and submit the project for prior consultation.
“If the MRC fails to clamp down on Laos, it will be failing its mandate and will lose any validity they have left as an organisation,” said Ame Trandem of the conservationist NGO International Rivers.
In addition to the Don Sahong Dam, 41 projects on the tributaries of the Mekong have so far been submitted for the notification process – three in Cambodia, 17 in Laos, two in Thailand and 19 in Vietnam.
The Xayaburi Dam, which is now under construction, is the only one so far to have been proposed on the mainstream and therefore submitted for the prior consultation process.