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Concerns mount over new Lao dam

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A new hydropower dam project on the mainstream Mekong River in Laos has been proposed to the Mekong River Commission Secretariat (MRCS), despite concerns over transboundary environmental impacts from the dam. The Nation/ANN

Concerns mount over new Lao dam

Residents along the Mekong River and local NGOs are increasingly concerned about migrant fish swimways in transboundary waters after learning of the Lao government’s plan to begin construction of the Pak Lay hydropower dam in 2022.

Ngach Samin, the president of the Cambodia Indigenous Youth Association based in Stung Treng province, said the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy hydropower dam, which collapsed last September killing scores of people and displacing thousands, should make the Lao authorities consider stopping the dam’s construction.

“A hydropower dam across the Mekong River will cause many problems for downstream waterways. It will flood the homes of villagers near the project site, and the swimways of migrating fish will be blocked.

“The collapse of the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy hydropower dam remains in our memories. It was a terrible situation for Laotian and Cambodian people,” he said.

After the dam collapsed, local NGOs in Cambodia requested the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to stop discussing the Pak Lay project and pushed the Lao government to further explain the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy dam collapse. Their request was rejected.

On Friday, the MRC’s Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement Joint Committee Working Group (PNPCA JCWG) released a summary of recommendations and suggestions of proposed impact mitigation and risk management measures.

The PNPCA JCWG made a final draft technical review report (TRR) of the Pak Lay hydropower project and plan to submit it to the Special Session of the Joint Committee in Vientiane in late March or early April.

“The Session will mark the end of the six-month prior consultation process, at which time the JC is expected to issue a statement which will pave the way for the development of a joint action plan on the proposed 770MW Pak Lay hydropower project,” read a statement.

“All these recommendations contribute to the commitment to make every effort to avoid, minimise and mitigate possible harmful effects as reflected in the 1995 Mekong Agreement and with careful consideration of feedback from stakeholders,” CEO An Pich Hatda told the PNPCA JCWG meeting.

“They are also intended to further build on the existing cooperation and confidence among the member countries,” he added.

The Lao government on June 13, last year, notified the MRC Secretariat of its intention to undertake the formal process of prior consultation on the Pak Lay project, the fourth Mekong mainstream dam to be submitted to the prior consultation.

The project is a “run-of-the-river” dam – whereby little or no water storage is provided – located in Xayaburi province’s Pak Lay district in north-western Laos, downstream of the under-construction Xayaburi hydropower station and 241km upstream of Vientiane.

The dam will operate continuously year-round with an annual average generating capacity of 4,124GWh, intended mainly for power generation for domestic supply.

The project’s total investment cost is estimated at $2,134 million with the construction expected to start in 2022 and the commercial operation to begin when the construction finishes in 2029.

Power China Resources Ltd and China National Electronics Import-Export Corporation are named as the developers, according to the official Lao notification documents.

Fisheries Action Coalition Team programme manager Om Savath said the Lao government and the developers always say they are acting responsibly in order to gain support from the governments of MRC member countries.