Thailand’s Office of Natural Water Resources (ONWR) has said it raise concerns about China dams causing the current drought with the Mekong River Commission. Dams in China are choking the Mekong a waterway on which millions depend for their livelihoods.
Somkiat Prajamwong, director ONWR said he had documented complaints from villagers who have suffered economic hardship as a result of the river’s erratic flow.
We have compiled information and studied peoples concerns along the Mekong River,” Somkiat said. “During the next meeting of the Mekong River Commission, we will make the issue a top priority.” The MRC is due to meet next month.
The commission, known by its acronym MRC, an inter-government agency that works with regional governments to manage the Mekong’s resources. It warrned Sunday that water outflows could potentially drop by half along the river that stretches through China and five river nations.
The MRC’s dire forecasts that water levels could fall by up 70 centimeters in Thailand. And about 25 centimeters in Cambodia this week. China is testing equipment at one of its 11 dams on the upper Mekong River, cutting off much needed water. Especially as drought has hit northern and northeastern Thailand.
Xayaburi Dam in Laos begins operations
In October, amid protests from villagers in Thailand, the first hydro-power dam on the lower Mekong River began operations. The dam China owned dam is in Laos – one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries.
Protesters said the 1,285-megawatt, multi-billion-dollar Xayaburi Dam, which was aiming to sell 95 percent of its generated power to Thailand, could further disrupt the river flow that was already drying out even at the end of the rainy season.
Thai farmers say fish stocks have collapsed along the Mekong River. Even more after China revealed it was testing equipment at one of its dams in the waterway’s upper reaches.
The Mekong, the world’s 12th-longest river, stretches 4,350 km from China in the north to Vietnam in the south. It hosts at least 270 species of fish, experts say.
In a development plan bearing the slogan “Shared River, Shared Future,” China hopes to carve a link from its Yunnan province through Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. China says this could bring about a trade boom that could benefit up to 240 million people.
Somkiat said “China usually notifies Thailand’s water resources office about its activities at the last minute. Consequently this does not provide Thai authorities enough time to warn local residents.”
China’s Jing Hong Dam tests equipment
In late December, China’s Jing Hong Dam tested its equipment, lowering water release from 1,200 to 1,400 cubic meters per seconds to only 500-800 cubic meters, according to Thailand’s water resources office. That move lowered water levels in the Mekong between Thailand and Laos to critical points.
Somkiat said Thailand would prepare to address the issues with the four MRC members during their meeting in Laos.
“We will study with other countries about a lack of sediment, or even drought. It is too early to presume that they are caused by water harnessing in dam reservoirs or the production of electricity,” Somkiat said. “China and Laos also want to study the causes to solve the problems.”
China and Laos currently share information on water management as a short -term solution, Somkiat said. Furthermore he said he was expecting a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to be signed to formalize the exchange of information between the affected nations.
“Those countries have shared with Thailand information on water release and on water levels in certain areas as a short-term solution, but in the next phase there will be an MoU on official information exchanges a proper way,” he said.
While it remained unclear what kind of tests China was conducting on dam equipment, water levels on the Mekong in Chiang Rai – where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet – have been reduced by about 40 percent, from three meters to less than one, Brian Eyler, director of the Stimson Center’s Southeast Asia program, told Al Jazeera.
Such sudden drops and rises, Eyler said, confuse fish in their natural movements in the river, leading to a drop in fish stocks. “For a river to be healthy it needs regular flow and not to be shocked with unnatural ups and downs,” he said.
Thai Farmers Complain of Hardships
The Electricity-Generating Authority of Thailand is said to be the main buyer of the Laos generated power. Paying an estimated U.S. $4 billion a year for electricity from the Xayaburi Dam and Don Sahong Dam.
But activists and locals say the dams had affected the environment and people’s livelihood, Relief Web reports.
“The drought that has been lasting since last year is, besides lower rainfall, caused by water control by
Dams in China are creating unnatural tides, Montree Chanthavong, an environmentalist with the Mekong Butterfly group says. The Mekong water turned into aquamarine blue last November due to a lack of sediment. This is a warning sign of a degrading ecological system he said.
“The lack of sediment in the Mekong causes fish to migrate in the wrong time and resulting in less breeding. The drastic change of Mekong appeared after Xayaburi began operating,” he said.
“When Xayaburi Dam began test operations in July 2019, the Mekong turned dry. “During this time the Mekong should have been high. Fish that are were supposed to lay eggs in tributaries died” a Thai fisherman said.
“Water levels abruptly changed up and down. Fishermen cannot catch enough because the water turned blue,” Saman said. “No more fish,” he said.
Source: Relief Web, International Rivers