New hydropower design to boost Mekong River ecosystem

The Mekong River in Vientiane.

The governing board of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) has approved a milestone document that clarifies guidelines for hydropower project designs to minimise the impact on ecosystems and communities along the largest waterway in South-East Asia.

Besides the revised Preliminary Design Guidance (PDG), the joint committee has also agreed on a Guideline on Transboundary Environmental Impact Assessment (TbEIA).

Given the transboundary nature of a river flowing through the four MRC member countries, namely Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, a TbEIA would measure how a project affects a neighbour, said a statement issued by the MRC yesterday.

The agreement allows the TbEIA to be tested and applied by countries and developers, with the MRC’s technical support.

It gauges how a hydropower dam or any large water infrastructure project, such as irrigation diversion or navigation work, affects issues like water flow, sediment transport, water quality and fisheries, which may adversely impact river ecosystems and vulnerable communities at the transnational or regional level.

“This is a historic breakthrough for MRC cooperation after years of discussion. The two guidelines point out exactly what to do in minimising cross-border environmental impacts,” the statement quoted CEO of the MRC Secretariat Anoulak Kittikhoun as saying.

“Members will see how beneficial the guidance is, not just to their own country and local communities, but in working together with their neighbours.”

As for the deign plan for hydropower projects, it has undergone a long process of negotiation and clarification, which covers six areas: sediment transport and geomorphology, water quality, aquatic life, fish and fisheries, dam safety and navigation.

“This PDG is gearing us toward projects that are both economically viable and environmentally friendly, more protective of the river’s resources while safeguarding people’s livelihoods,” said Kittikhoun. — Xinhua

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