Credit: Thai Mekong People’s Network from Eight Provinces

Mekong residents bring crystal clear Mekong to Thai court as proof of the river’s illness by Xayaburi dam

They have requested an injunction to be placed against the power purchase agreement as a means to demand for responsibility

Representatives of Mekong residents in Thailand have submitted additional documents in regard to the recent abnormal phenomena in the Mekong River to the Administrative Court for consideration, whether to put an injunction against power purchase from the newly operated Xayaburi dam blamed for such abnormalities.

The representatives mostly from the Northeast representing the Thai Mekong People’s Network from Eight Provinces filed their request to the court yesterday, asking it to put an injunction against the power purchase agreement between Thailand’s Eletricity Authority of Thailand (Egat) and the dam developer, Xayaburi Power.

The additional documents have pointed to abrupt changes of the river’s characterisrics following the dam’s commercial operation since late last year. Those include water level fluctuations downstream as well as the disappearance of sediment that turns the river’s brownish hue to become unprecidentedly crystal clear for months. 

“Changes in the river have gone extreme and they are what we were worried in the beginning. That’s why we have decided to come with additional evidence today and presented them before the court,” said OrmboonThipsuna, one of the representatives.

Sor Rattanamanee Polka, a lawyer from the Community Resources Center representing the group, said the group hoped this time the court would review the power purchase agreement which is seen as a key driver of the project. The purchaser, she said, is a crucial part of the supply chain of power generation so it cannot avoid the responsibility.

Thailand at the moment, she added, has introduced the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, which requires responsibility in any investments beyond the border.

“It should not be like you seek power out of the country that then this triggers human rights violations elsewhere,” said Sor Rattanamanee.

The court ruling is not expected to be dlivered too soon as the group has been waiting for the ruling over the case, which is the first to have filed against transboundary development project, for eight straight years already.

“W hope that the court would call for the deliberation so facts would be examined afterward,” said Chalermsri Prasertsri, the accompanying lawyer rrom the same center. “For us, it’s clear that dams on the river have severely affected the river ecosystem as welll as people’s livelihood, and we hope that the court would be the prime mechanism to protect and rehabilitate people and the environment.”

NASA released the photo a few weeks ago showing the upper part of the Mekong turning from brown to blue- green following to the drop of sediments in the river.
Credit: NASA Earth

Background

The Xayaburi dam, located in Lao PDR, about 80 km south of Luang Prabang, is the first hydropower dam on the lower Mekong mainstream to begin planning and development.  

It’s the 1,285 MW dam streching across the Mekong River that will generate electricity, with upto 95% exported to Thailand, and the remainder for Laos.

The project was developed under the joint venture of Xayaburi Power, with CK Power holding the largest shares and Thai banks having provided loans.

The construction was officially announced in 2012, while the so called “priliminary work” was reported during the prior consultation process required under the Mekong River Commission’s rules was still proceeding in the late 2010.

The dam was a highly controversial project from the onset due to widespread concerns over its expected impacts on the river system, including transboundary impacts in neighboring countries. 

The project’s predicted environmental impacts include the destruction of Mekong migratory fisheries and trapping of sediment, preventing it from traveling downstream.  

The dam’s environmental impacts, in turn, could threaten the food, livelihoods and socio-cultural systems of populations residing within the river basin, the US based International Rivers, an organisation campaigning for sustainable development of major river basins worldwide said.

“As the first project on the lower Mekong mainstream, amid plans for a total of eleven lower mainstream dams, the decision-making process for Xayaburi had potential to determine the standard for decision-making and the issues for consideration with respect to later mainstream hydropower projects,” the organisation noted in its latest report on the review of the dam’s redesign and review lunched late last year. (Read: Review of Design Changes Made for the Xayaburi Hydropower Project)

During the consultation, many stakeholders raised concerns over the project and questioned the adequacy of the data and studies used to inform decisions about the project’s impacts and whether it should be built. 

Following the six-month Prior Consultation, the lower Mekong governments were unable to reach an agreement on whether and how to proceed with the Xayaburi dam.  

The Vietnamese government called for a suspension of Xayaburi and a ten-year moratorium on all mainstream dams pending further studies to better understand the river system and the impacts of proposed dam projects.  The Cambodian government also expressed serious concerns and called for additional studies.

However, the Lao government pushed ahead with development of Xayaburi, with the project developers announcing a redesign of the dam and additional investment in impact mitigation measures in order to address concerns, reportedly around $400 million US.

The redesign, however, is subject to continued debates, whether it has successfully addressed the likely impacts as the reviews have shown that inadequate information in regard to the redesign was provided for the reviews.

On December 29 last year, however, the Xayaburi dam commenced its commercial operation, with a big splash of advertising on almost every newspaper’s wraps in Thailand, in an attempt to convince the public that it was in harmony with the nature.