Water

Mekong's water levels fall as new Laos dam begins operations

The water levels in Southeast Asia’s great river have fallen to their lowest in 100 years

 
By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Thursday 31 October 2019
The dried-up Mekong. Photo: @panuw / Twitter

The water level of the Mekong river, southeast Asia's arterial waterway, reportedly fell to the lowest in a century even as a new dam started operating on it in Laos on October 29, 2019.

The river's level fell to a critical 1.5 metres, with sand bars jutting out, making navigation difficult, reported the Bangkok Post daily.

Drone footage of Thailand's Nong Khai province from a day before showed the river running dry along most of its channel.

Amid this, the Xayaburi dam, which has been in the crosshairs of critics and environmentalists since construction began in 2012, started operations. CKPower, the dam's Thailand-based developer, however, went ahead with the $4.47 billion, 1,285 megawatt hydroelectricity project.

Xayaburi is the latest in a series of hydroelectric plants in impoverished Laos. It already has 44 operating hydel plants with 46 more under construction, according to the organisation ‘International Rivers’.

The Mekong originates in Tibet and flows through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Millions depend on it for fishing and transport. Any project in the lower part of the river is subject to a discussion between the last four countries, as mandated by the 1995 Mekong Agreement.

Although the developers of Xayaburi have touted the dam as a ‘fish friendly power plant’, it could end up having the opposite effect according to critics, with fish no longer able to migrate upstream to spawn.

Most of the electricity generated by Xayaburi will go to Thailand. But a group of Thai activists protested against Xayaburi and other Lao dams a day before it became operational.

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