CK Power’s clip showing the dam site

Xayaburi Dam Commences

Mekong residents demand transboundary impacts be addressed

The first dam built on the Lower Mekong, Xayaburi, has commenced its commercial operation today with a big splash of advertising on almost every newspaper’s wraps in Thailand, convincing the public that it is in harmony with the nature.

Its executive, as giving an interview to some media, said the dam’s developer and investors have been aware of the health of the environment so they have invested in the technology and design that can put the dam in harmony with the nature.

A number of Mekong residents, newly grouped under the name of Mekong residents of seven provinces, however, are not convinced. They have called on the project’s developer and investors as well as the Thai government to come up with both immediate and long-term measures to address transboundary impacts claimed to have been felt strongly since July when the dam was on a trial operation.

They also called for the issue to be addressed in the upcoming Asean Summit.

“Today would be the last day that we can see the Mekong alive. We, the Mekong residents, Mekong riverside gardeners, fishers, farmers, boat drivers, and others call on responsible parties to address the transboundary impacts caused by the dam,” said the group in the statement.

The latest photo of the unusually dry Mekong River today in Pakchom district in Thailand’s Loei province
Credit: Mekong Voice FB Page/ Kamkon Kitnukorn

The Xayaburi Hydropower project, 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 proceeding in the late 2010.

According to the International Rivers, the Xayaburi 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, threaten the food, livelihoods and socio-cultural systems of populations residing within the river basin, the 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 launched last week. (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.