Questions over China dams
The Phnom Penh Post
By Shane Worrell
October 23rd, 2012
Some questions remain about whether hydro dams on the upper Mekong
River in China exacerbated conditions during Cambodia's devastating
drought of 2010, environmental groups say, as China's dam program powers
When the first power-generating unit was switched on last month at
China's giant 262-metre tall Nuozhadu hydroelectric dam, which will be
the largest on the river when completed in 2014, state-run newspaper the
China Daily sang its praises as a dam that would significantly reduce
carbon dioxide emissions.
Extensive research, the China Daily added, also showed potential
impacts of the Nuozhadu and others dams on countries downstream –
including Cambodia, where fishing communities along the Mekong fear
Laos's proposed Xayaburi dam – would be minimal.
Research showed "water flow in the river's China section accounted for
only 13.5 per cent of the river's total, making the country's hydropower
development have little impact downstream", it said.
Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers,
said, however, that China's section of the Mekong, known in that country
as the Lancang River, provided as much as 50 per cent of the river's
total water flow during the dry season, when countries including
Cambodia depend on it most.
An example of how important this flow is to Mekong countries, Trandem
said, was the 2010 drought – one of the worst in 50 years – when China
began filling the reservoir of its giant 4,200-megawatt Xiawan dam.
"[This] exacerbated the drought that the region was experiencing,
because there was little rainfall in the dry season that year," she
"Essentially, they were holding back water that could have come
NGO collective Save the Mekong Coalition wrote to the Mekong River
Commission at the time, inquiring about the potential effects China's
dams were having on drought conditions and had been promised a detailed
report, Trandem said.
The coalition has yet to receive this analysis, she said, while China
is not obliged to provide Mekong countries details of their research.
In an emailed response this week, the MRC secretariat said it had not
undertaken specific analysis of the effects of China's dams on Cambodia
during the 2010 dry season.
"The MRC released various assessment reports at the time of the 2010
drought and also carried out analysis at the request of member
countries," the statement says.
"Additional data from China was also released. The MRC in 2010 provided
its analysis on the drought situation in an opinion-editorial piece
published in the Bangkok Post newspaper.
"The analysis revealed that the low water levels in the Mekong and its
tributaries were the result of extreme natural conditions. Very low
rainfall for this dry season, following a particularly early end to the
wet season in 2009, led to river levels below those seen in at least 50
Srisuwan Kuankachorn, co-director of Towards Ecological Recovery and
Regional Alliance, a member the Save the Mekong Coalition, said it was
"not an overstatement" to draw a link between China's dams and the
drought situation in Cambodia in 2010.
China has announced plans for at least seven hydroelectric dams on its
section of the Mekong, although reports outside of China suggest it
plans to build more.
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