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Xayaburi study questioned

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A road leading to the proposed dam site in Xayaburi province, Laos, was constructed last year. Photograph: Bangkok post

A study the Lao government has used to claim the Xayaburi dam would be harmless if redesigned has been criticised for not addressing concerns about the project’s effect on fish in the Lower Mekong river.

Lao Vice Minister of Energy and Mines Viraponh Viravong was reported as saying last week that a redesigned Xayaburi dam in northern Laos would allow a steady flow of sediment downsteam, thus allaying environmental concerns.

“First, we hired … Poyry to do the impact study, but people were not satisfied with that. And now we have hired a French company,” he told Radio Free Asia. “This study … confirms that if the Lao government wants to let the dam be redesigned, there will be no impact on the environment.”

Viraponh Viravong did not name the study’s French authors, but conservation groups said Laos had commissioned Compagnie Nationale du Rhone (CNR) to review Poyry’s 2011 study.

Marc Goichot, sustainable hydropower manager for WWF-Greater Mekong, said CNR failed to address concerns about potential effects on fish in the Lower Mekong.

“WWF’s understanding is that the scope of the CNR review is limited to hydrology, sediment and navigation impact,” he said. “Questions about fish and fisheries raised in response to the Poyry report have not yet been addressed.”

International Rivers Southeast Asia programme director Ame Trandem said the new report was a “meaningless” attempt to woo fellow Mekong River Commission member countries.

“While Poyry sidestepped sci­­ence on the dam’s fishery impacts, the new CNR review deliberately omits the dam’s fishery impacts,” she said. “Until the transboundary impacts of the project are assessed, Laos has no basis for claiming this dam is sustainable.”

The four MRC member states – Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos – agreed in December that the 1,260-megawatt could not proceed until further studies assessed its potential impact.

Japan last month agreed to help fund a study with MRC’s other development partners.

Thai developer Ch.Karnchang said last month that construction had begun on the dam – the first of 11 along the Lower Mekong – on March 15. Laos agreed early this month to suspend construction.

Viraponh Viravong and CNR could not be reached yesterday.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shane Worrell at shane.worrell@phnompenhpost.com

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