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Laos’ Third Mekong River Dam Spells Danger for the Delta

Laos is preparing to begin construction on its third hydropower dam along the Mekong River.

Developers will break ground on the project in early 2017, reports VietnamNet, going against the recommendations of experts and threatening the livelihoods of local residents who rely upon the river for farming, fishing and transportation.

Dr. Vu Trong Hong, chairman of the Vietnam Water Resources Association and former Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, had a grave outlook on the project's impact.

“Mekong will die, step by step,” he told the news outlet.

During dry season, Laos’ hydropower dams store water to keep up with electricity demand, however farmers in the delta are also in dire need of water during the drier months. This year, as the Mekong region faced its worst drought in nearly a century, our northeastern neighbor released water from its dams in an effort to alleviate the woes of the river’s southern residents, however this was only a temporary solution.

At present, the Mekong River’s capacity is 6,000m3/s (cubic meters per second), according to VietnamNet, however when Laos’ third hydropower dam goes into operation the river’s capacity will slow to several hundred cubic meters per second, eliminating the Mekong’s ability to wash away toxins and push saltwater back into the sea.

Unfortunately, none of these issues are new. For the better part of a decade, scientists and experts have been calling for action to reverse the environmental damage heaped upon the Mekong River, and news reports have forecast the region’s demise for years.

However while Vietnamese experts previously thought groundwater would be the answer to the delta’s problems, this resource is now too polluted to exploit, and scientists fear severe saltwater intrusion will heavily impact the region in the next 14 years.

In an effort to minimize some of the damage to come, experts are now recommending Vietnam reduce its rice-growing capacity and rethink its agricultural production overall. Hong, the Vietnam Water Resources Association chairman, believes that if Vietnam cuts its rice exports by 1 million tons, that same amount could supply 60 million people in a “first-class urban area” with 160 liters per person a day.

[Photo via Flickr user The World Fish Center]


Related Articles:

Petition Against Mekong Delta Dam Construction Receives Thousands of Signatures

The Demise of the Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta Faces Worst Drought in 90 Years


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