The graphic of the new dam project planned on the Lower Mekong in Champasak province, Phu Ngoy, displayed on the website of its developer, CEWA. Credit: CEWA

Thailand insists on “sufficient” data on transboundary impacts of Lao PDR’s Sanakham Dam before consultation wrap-up

Laos has also pushed for another dam on the Lower Mekong_7th in a queue_ called Phu Ngoy, proposing for a prior consultation process as required by the Mekong River Commission (MRC)

The Thai National Mekong Committee (TNMC) has convened today and discussed the progress made on Laos’ two dam projects on the Lower Mekong_Sanakham and Phu Ngoy_as well as their formal consultation processes required by the intergovernmental body, MRC.

Deputy PM Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, as the committee’s chair, has revealed that the committee has looked into the progress concerning the two dams and agreed that sufficient data on transboundary impacts as well as impacts on the Thai-Lao border of Sanakham must be delivered to Thailand by Laos to complete its so-called prior consultation process.

Under the Mekong Agreement, a prior consultation process must be conducted before the implementation of any water development projects proposed on the mainstream Mekong that could have significant impacts on the mainstream’s flow regimes and water quality which are transboundary.

All dam projects proposed and built on the Lower Mekong section governed through the MRC mechanisms have gone through or are going through this process; from Xayaburi, the first, to the recent projects namely Sanakham and Phu Ngoy.

The process normally takes around six months to be completed but it’s the first time that the conclusion of the consultation process for Sanakham, which was kickstarted on October 9, 2019, has been postponed a few times already due to the Covid-19 pandemic as well as Thailand’s repeated requests for more completion of the dam’s data, especially that concerning impacts on its border and transboundary impacts the dam could cause. (Read: Thailand openly calls for transboundary impact assessments from Laos’ Sanakham dam)

Sanakham is a 684 MW run-off river dam planned on the river section about 25 kilometres (km) upstream from Sanakham District of Vientiane province, and about 155 km from the capital of Vientiane downstream. It is, however, considerably close to the Thai-Lao border, about 2 km upstream from Thailand’s Loei province in the Northeast.

This has prompted Thailand to raise serious concerns regarding the border impacts it would cause as well as transboundary impacts to downstream communities. It has repeated its requests for the postponement of the consultation conclusion, and once again requested for “sufficient” data on the likely dam impacts from Laos.

“This is to accompany the public consultation and participation which is part of the prior consultation process,” said Gen Prawit.

So far, there has been no official confirmation on the completion of the consultation process of Sanakham. At the MRC Joint Committee’s meeting late last year, it was agreed that the consultation process for Sanakham would aim to cease on January 19 this year. However, it was reported that the conclusion of the consultation process for Sanakham and the agreement on a possible extension were tabled for consideration. No further elaboration has been provided to the public up to this point. (Update/ April 23: The source familiar with the issue said the consultation process of the dam is not yet concluded and the concerned issues are still being discussed.)

Over the course of the process, a new assessment called “rapid impacts assessment” was also requested to accompany the consultation process.

As explained by the ex-MRC chief, Dr. An Pich Hatda, the assessment would incorporate more recent data and information and various scenarios of the Sanakham dam’s operation, considering potential transboundary impacts caused by rapid water fluctuations of the proposed dam.

Credit: MRC

Phu Ngoy Dam

Alongside Sanakham, Laos has been pushing for a new project called Phu Ngoy.

According to the TNMC, Laos has proposed for the kickstart of a prior consultation process for the 728 MW Phu Ngoy dam, planned only about 18 km south of Pakse, the capital of Laos’ Champassak province, as reported by RFA, and about 50 km from the confluence of the Mun and Mekong Rivers in Thailand’s Sisaket province.

No further details about the 7th Laos’ dam on the Lower Mekong are available on the public platforms like those of the MRC or the company which is named as its developer, Charoen Energy and Water Asia Company Limited (CEWA).

The new profile for hydropower projects on the mainstream Mekong explains itself on its website as “a leading Independent Power Producer in Thailand, with an ambitious vision aiming to be a leading value-oriented integrated energy company in Asia-Pacific.”

The company’s investment is mainly focused on renewable projects as well as businesses adjacent to electricity generation and energy both in Thailand and internationally such as Laos, Japan, Indonesia and etc, the company notes on its website. It was found in early 2007, with Mr. Chatchaval Jiaravanon being its Chairman.

The committee assigned the Office of National Water Resources, acting as the secretary to the TNMC, to proceed for data and information concerned, especially likely impacts on Thailand.

The Mekong River, meanwhile, is facing another incident of water fluctuations for this dry season, under which a sudden increase in water levels in the river is expected to occur until the end of next week (April 29) starting from today onwards, from Chiang Saen District of Chiang Rai in the North to Ubon Ratchathani province in the Lower Northeast.

The ONWR has issued a warning to the residents living next to the river to brace for possible impacts from the increase in water levels between 0.5 meters to two meters.

“The ONWR followed up on the situation and learned that the volume of water discharge from Jinghong Dam in China has increased to 1,590 cu m per second, resulting in the increase in water levels at the Jinghong station by two meters. This is projected to raise the water levels downstream as such,” noted the ONWR.

The Mekong dam status as of July 2020. The name, Lat Sua, is now changed to Phu Ngoy (2022). Credit: MRC