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Massive Dropping of Mekong River Water Levels Sparks Alarm

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BANGKOK – Thailand’s national water management agency has reported that the Mekong River water levels that have fallen dramatically under impact from dam operations in Laso will soon recover.

Somkiat Prajumwong, secretary-general at the Office of National Water Resources (ONWR), offered his reassurance despite warnings from experts that Chinese Dams are destroying the Mekong River.

Environmentalists say Chinese Dams on the Mekong River are destroying the ecosystems and doing long-lasting harm to millions of people who depend on the river.

Over this week, Mekong River levels on the Laos-Thailand border in the Northeast Thailand fell at an alarming rate after China’s Jinghong Dam reduced its discharge.

While the Xayaburi hydropower dam in Laos began trial operations.

Somkiat admitted that Thai authorities had no measures to mitigate the rapid change in water level but said the river would return to normal quickly.

He said the Jinghong Dam had already resumed its regular discharge rate and the Xayaburi Dam trial would conclude soon.

The Mekong River water levels during this early flood season from June to July are among the lowest on record, falling below their historical long-term minimum levels. But the situation is expected to get better at the end of July.

From the upper reaches of the lower Mekong basin in Thailand’s Chiang Saen to Cambodia’s Neak Luong, the water levels are all below those that occurred in 1992.

According to the Mekong River Commission the river was by far the lowest flow on record.

For example, the current water level in Chiang Saen, 2.10 meters, is 3.02m lower than its long-term average – the average water level measured over 57 years (1961-2018) – over the same period.

It is about 0.75m lower than the minimum level ever recorded. Between 14 June and 18 July this year, there was also a drop of 0.97m at this station.

In Vientiane, the water is 0.70m or 5.54m below its long-term average over the same period.

It is about 1.36m lower than the minimum level. Between 16 June and 18 July, there was a drop of 5.58m at the station

“Regional Low Flow”

According to the Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) analysis and available information, some key factors have contributed to the current state of what is described as the “regional low flow” of the Mekong river basin.

There has been very deficient rainfall over the Mekong basin since the beginning of this year. In the upper reaches of the lower Mekong basin.

Chiang Sean had the lowest rainfall this June compared to the other areas downstream.

Its June’s average rainfall was only about 67% of the total amount of monthly rainfall in June 2006-2018.

The average lower-than-normal rain volume in the lower Mekong basin during June-July could also cause the deficient groundwater in the region.

This means there is insufficient groundwater contributing to the Mekong mainstream.

The amount of water flowing from the upper part of the basin, where the Mekong is known as Lancang, could also be a potential contribution of the low flow.

According to the notification from China, starting from 5 to 19 July the amount of water flowing out from the Jinghong dam in Yunnan province would be fluctuating from 1,050 – 1,250 cubic meters per second (m3/s) to 504 – 600 m3/s due to “grid maintenance”.

Besides, the drier-than-average conditions are expected in July over parts of the southern ASEAN region.

Thailand, Lao PDR and Myanmar are some of the countries that would be hit, according to the Asian Specialized Meteorological Center (ASMC).

But the current state of the lower water in the basin is anticipated to improve at the end of this month, with rain in the forecast.

According to the ASMC, wetter-than-average conditions may develop over parts of the region between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and eastern Mekong sub-region, including the four lower Mekong countries plus Myanmar.

Source: The Nation, MRC