Hydropower in the Mekong River Basin
The estimated hydropower potential of the lower Mekong Basin (i.e. excluding China) is 30,000 MW, while that of the upper Mekong Basin is 28,930 MW. In the lower Mekong, more than 3,235 MW has been met through facilities built largely over the past ten years, while an additional 3,209 MW are currently under construction. An additional 134 projects are planned for the lower Mekong, which will effectively exhaust the river’s hydropower generating capacity. The single most significant impact – both now and in the future – on the use of water and its management in the Mekong Region is hydropower.
With development proceeding in the region’s countries, power demands are expected to rise 7% per year between 2010 and 2030, yielding a substantial – and potentially lucrative - energy market. Hydropower is a clear and favoured energy option for the Mekong’s riparian countries, as reflected in the narratives utilised to support these interventions. Laos is being portrayed as the ‘battery of Southeast Asia’. In China, hydropower is promoted as the best possible (‘clean green’) alternative to their coal-fired power stations, and will open the way to the development of the west. In Thailand, they emphasise the ‘greening of Isan’, the drought-prone northeast, to legitimise the development of a spectacular ‘water grid’ that will channel water from Laos, under the Mekong mainstream, and according to critics over-emphasising projected energy demands in the country. In Cambodia, hydropower is central to solving the country’s energy supply problems.
The development of the Mekong River Basin is highly controversial, and is one of the most prominent components in the discussion about the river and its management. This debate occurs in both the academic literature, as well as the media, and is a focus for many activist groups.
- 1 Existing hydropower infrastructure
- 2 Hydropower infrastructure under construction
- 3 Planned hydropower infrastructure
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Existing hydropower infrastructure
Dams already constructed are presented below in Table 1:
|Project||Country||River||Approx Location||Commissioned||Installed capacity (MW)||Height (m)||Crest length (m)||Active storage (million m3)||Max reservoir area (km2)|
|Nam Leuk||LAO||Nam Leuk/Nam Ngum||2000||60||45||800||185|
|Nam Lik 2||LAO||Nam Lik||100||103||328||8.26||24.4|
|Nam Ngum 1||LAO||Nam Ngum||1971||148.7||75||468||7,000||370|
|Nam Ngum 2||LAO||Nam Ngum||2011||615||181||421||2,970||122.2|
|Nam Theun 2||LAO||Nam Theun/Xe Bangfai||2010||1,075||48||325||3,680||450|
|Theun-Hinboun||LAO||Nam Theun/Nam Hinboun||1998||210||20||15.5034|
|Xeset 2||LAO||Xeset||Saravan Province, Lao PDR||2009||76||20|
|Buon Kuop||VN||Sre Pok||2009||280||37|
|Buon Tua Sra||VN||Se San/Kroong Po Ko||2009||86|
|Dray Hinh 1||VN||Sre Pok||Dak Lak Province, Viet Nam||1990||12|
|Dray Hinh 2||VN||Sre Pok||2007||16|
|Plei Krong||VN||Se San/Kroong Po Ko||2008||100||65||745||162||80|
|Sre Pok 3||VN||Sre Pok||2009||220||52.5|
|Sirindhorn||THL||Lam Dom Noi||1971||36||42||940||1967||288|
|Ubol Ratana||THL||Nam Pong||1966||25.2||35.1||885||2,263||410|
|Hua Na||THL||Huay Kaosan||1994||17||207|
|Lam Phra Phloeng||THL||Lam Phra Phloeng||1967||11||145|
|Lam Ta Khong||THL||Lam Ta Khong||2002||500||40.3||251||291||1,430|
Hydropower infrastructure under construction
Hydropower infrastructure under construction in China
Nuozhadu Dam (simplified Chinese: 糯扎渡大坝; traditional Chinese: 糯扎渡大壩; pinyin: Nuòzhādù Dàbà) is a central core rock fill dam, presently under construction at . It is sometime also known as the "Ruzhadu". The dam will be 261.5 m (858 ft) tall, the tallest dam of this type in China, and the third tallest in the world. It will create a reservoir with a normal capacity of 21,749,000,000 m3 (17,632,000 acre·ft) at a level of 812 m (2,664 ft) asl. It will be the largest hydropower dam in the Mekong River Basin. The purpose of the dam is hydroelectric power production along with flood control and navigation. The dam will support a power station with nine generators, each with generating capacity of 650 MW. The total generating capacity of the project is 5,850 MW. The construction and management of the project is being implemented by Huaneng Power International Ltd., which has a concession to build, own and operate hydroelectric dams on China's stretch of the Mekong River.
Planned hydropower infrastructure
Planned hydropower infrastructure in Cambodia
The Lower Se San 2 Dam is a proposed hydroelectric dam on the Se San River in the Stung Treng Province of Northeastern Cambodia. The dam site is at . The dam is planned to be a run-of-the-river facility. It will be 75 m (246 ft) high, and will create a reservoir that will cover 355 km2 (137 sq mi). It will have an installed capacity of 400MW with an average output of 1,998 GWh per year. Electricity will be routed to Vietnam, and then half of its generated output sold back to Cambodia. Construction is expected to commence in 2011, and completed in 2016. The dam will be located 25 km (16 mi) east of the confluence between the Sesan River and the Mekong. The dam will be developed by a joint venture between Electricity of Vietnam (51%) and a Cambodian firm, the Royal Group (49%).
A memorandum of understanding between Cambodia's Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy (MIME) and Electricity of Vietnam was signed in 2007 outlining and authorising an initial feasibility study, and an environmental impact assessment. In January 2011, the Vietnamese Ministry of Planning and Investment licensed Electricity of Vietnam to make a US$800 million investment into the project.
The project's environmental impact assessment has drawn criticism from some groups. The dam's reservoir is expected to inundate numerous villages upstream from the dam. Up to 2,000 people will be displaced, with claims that at least 38,675 people, including a large number of indigenous peoples, resident in at least 86 villages located along the Sesan and Srepok Rivers and in the reservoir area would lose access to a considerable proportion fisheries resources as a consequence of the dam impeding fish migration routes
Prek Liang 1 Dam is a dam planned for the Prek Liang River, a tributary of the Mekong, in the Ratanakiri Province of Cambodia. The proposed dam site is at . It is understood to be a seasonal storage dam, and is intended to be 90 m (300 ft) high and 300 m (980 ft) long. It will have an installed capacity of 64MW and will generate 300GWh annually. Its reservoir will have a live storage capacity of 110,000,000 m3 (3.9×109 cu ft). The dam will be both developed and operated by a Korean company, KTC Cable.
The dam is based inside the Virachey National Park. The park is one of only two Cambodian ASEAN Heritage Parks  and is one of the top priority areas for conservation in Southeast Asia. The dam is under pre-feasibility study.
The Sambor Dam would be the lowest dam of the Mekong's mainstream dams, and largest in Cambodia. It is planned to be a concrete gravity dam and an earth rockfill dam. If commissioned, the dam will extend across the Mekong mainstream as well as the mouth of the inflowing Sre Pok, Sesan and Se Kong Rivers. The dam site is located near the village of Sambor, upstream of Kratie at , and would inundate the river channel to just south of Stung Treng town. It is being developed by the China Southern Power Grid Company at an estimated cost of US$4,947 million. Associated transmission lines would cost a further US$312.9 million. 70% of the power it generates is destined for Vietnam, while the balance is intended for domestic Cambodian markets. It would have an installed capacity of 2,600MW, and a dam over 18 km (11 mi) and 56 m (184 ft) high, with a rated head of 33 m (108 ft). If built, its reservoir would be 620 km2 (240 sq mi) with an active storage of 463 km3 (375,000,000 acre·ft). Construction and inundation will displace an estimated 19,034 people. The dam's earliest potential commissioning date is 2020.
Like other mainstream (and tributary) dams planned for the Mekong, the Sambor Dam has given rise to numerous social and environmental concerns. It is expected that the dam, together with the Stung Treng Dam (see below) will have significant negative impacts on the Mekong's fisheries, its hydrology and regional and national economies
Stung Battambang 1 Dam (also known as 'Battambang 1') is planned to be an earth core rockfill dam that will impound the Battambang River in Cambodia. The river is a major tributary of the Tonle Sap. The dam will be located east of Pailin District, in the Battambang Province of Cambodia. Of the two dams planned for this river, the larger is the Stung Battambang 1. It is planned to be 38 m (125 ft) high, to have an installed capacity of 24MW, and an annual electricity output of 120GW. A letter of commitment has been issued by the Cambodian authorities for a pre-feasibility study of the dam by an unknown Korean company
Surrounding the dam site is the Bannan Irrigation project, covering some 20,000 ha (77 sq mi), and the dam is understood to play a role in the irrigation of this area, as well as generating hydropower. There is little data available about reservoir size or number of people who will be displaced. The dam is one of three possible dams in the Stung Battambang basin; the other two would block two of the Battambang River's tributaries: the Mongkol Borey River and the Sangker River.
The Stung Treng Dam is a proposed earth core rockfill gravity dam hydroelectric project over the Mekong River in Stung Treng Province, Cambodia. If completed, the dam's crest will be 10,844 m (35,577 ft) long, and 22 m (72 ft) high. Its rated head is 15.2 m (50 ft). If commissioned, it will have an installed capacity of 980MW, and will, on average, generate 4,870GWh a year. The dam's reservoir, which will extend well beyond the mainstream canal, will have an active storage of 70,000,000 m3 (2.5×109 cu ft), and will inundate an area of 211 km2 (81 sq mi), and 50 km (31 mi) long The proposed dam site is located at . An MoU for its development had been signed with a Russian company, but when this lapsed, the Song Da company from Viet Nam agreed to carry out feasibility studies. At this stage it is not known where the power is destined for. Multiple independent agencies, including International Rivers, the Save the Mekong campaign (www.savethemekong.org) and others have all raised concerns about the dam’s construction. The dam site lies within the Stung Treng Ramsar Site (Ramsar site No. 999), which effectively obliges the Royal Cambodian Government to ‘actively support' the three 'pillars' of the Ramsar Convention: 1) ensuring the conservation and wise use of wetlands it has designated as Wetlands of International Importance, 2) including as far as possible the wise use of all wetlands in national environmental planning, and 3) consulting with other Parties about implementation of the Convention, especially in regard to transboundary wetlands, shared water systems, and shared species. If it and the Sambor Dam (see above) are constructed, it is expected that fish migration routes (which support the Tonle Sap fisheries, the world's largest inland fishery) will be more or less wholly impeded. The two proposed dams of the Sambor and the Stung Treng would have the Mekong river basin's highest sediment trapping efficiencies of all the Lower Mekong Basin's proposed mainstream projects, destabilising downstream channels and between Kratie and Phnom Penh and cutting overbank siltation in the Cambodian floodplain.
If built, an estimated 21 villages with 2,059 households and 10,617 people will be displaced with the construction of the dam. "Stung Treng and Sambor would create a situation of extreme crisis for the populations of affected provinces, and could provoke an emergency food security situation for the poor".
Planned hydropower infrastructure in China
The "Tuoba Hydropower Plant" is a planned concrete gravity dam, which will planned to be the fifth of China's 'cascade dams' on the Mekong (or Lancang) River. It will be located in Zhonglu Township, Weixi County, Diqing Prefecture, in China's Yunnan Province at . At the damsite, it will draw on a catchment are of 88,700 km2 (34,200 sq mi), and a mean annual discharge of 810m3/s. It will be 138 m (453 ft) high, with a total installed capacity of 900MW, a firm output of 375MW, and an annual output of 4630GWh.
Planned hydropower infrastructure in Vietnam
Table 2: Proposed Dams on the Mekong Mainstream
|Project||Country||Approx Location||Commissioning||Installed capacity (MW)||Height (m)||Crest length (m)||Active storage (million m3)||Max reservoir area (km2)|
|Pak Beng||Lao PDR||2016||1,230||76||943||442||87|
|Luang Prabang||Lao PDR||2016||1,410||68||1,106||734||90|
|Pak Lay (Option 1)||Lao PDR||2016||1,320||35||630||384||108|
|Pak Lay (Option 2)||Lao PDR||2016||1,320||35||630||384||108|
|Ban Koum||Lao PDR/Thailand||2017||1,872||53||780||0||133|
|Lat Sua||Lao PDR||2018||686||27||1,300||0||13|
|Don Sahong||Lao PDR||2016||240||10.6||1,820||115||2.9|
Impact of dams development on the Mekong fisheries
The impact of dams on fisheries is well researched around the globe. It has been well established that dams affect the ways in which river ecosystems and hydrology work. River damming is a process so intense and dramatic that it results in the creation of a new ecosystem.
Dams affect fisheries in several significant ways:
- Acting as barriers to fish migrations. Fish migrations are highly complex events and an inherent part of fish breeding cycles. The presence of dams in the Amazon Basin, for example, has halted the long distance migrations of several species of catfish, reducing downstream catches by up to 70 percent.
- Interrupting natural flood cycles to which fish have adapted over thousands of years.
- Hardening of the riverbed. Dams typically release water in bursts, which removes smaller sediments like silt, sand, and gravel, as well as aquatic plants and animals and debris from vegetation. As a result, the bedrock below the dam becomes exposed and loses its value as a habitat for fish.
- Capturing sediment behind dam walls. Dams are highly effective at trapping sediments. Sediments are a significant source of nutrition for fish.
- Altering water temperature. The water released from a dam is typically of a different (usually lower) temperature than the natural temperature regime downstream. When water is released, downstream water temperatures are rapidly altered, which has a direct impact on fish habitats and populations.
Cambodia is likely to bear the brunt of fisheries decline as a result of dam development, but the loss will also be significant for riparian communities in Laos and Thailand, as well as communities in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta. Fisheries degradation will disproportionately impact the poor, but fisheries alone cannot address all development and poverty reduction needs. By 2030, if the 11 proposed mainstream dams are built, the animal protein at risk of being lost every year is equivalent to 110 percent of the current annual livestock production of Cambodia and Laos. Fish consumption is expected to rise as the regional population continues to grow and as diets continue to improve as a result of increasing development.
Fish biodiversity will decrease over the next 20 years as a result of overexploitation, decreased habitat diversity and (in some locations) declining water quality In the Lower Mekong, mainstream dams will likely lead to the loss of productivity and biodiversity of migratory species that use tributary systems.
If, by 2030, eleven dams are built on the Lower Mekong Basin mainstream, forecasted total fish losses would amount to 550,000 to 880,000 tonnes compared to the baseline year 2000 (a 26-42 percent decrease). This is a loss of approximately 340,000 tonnes compared to a situation in 2030 without mainstream dams. Estimates of the cost of lost fish production range from USD 200 million to USD 476 million a year. Mainstream dams located upstream of Vientiane would have less impact on fisheries resources than those located further downstream.
The impacts of mainstream dams on fisheries production varies from project to project, depending on distance from the major Mekong floodplains and position in relation to its important tributaries. Tributary dams will also have a considerable impact on fisheries production. Together, the 78 constructed or planned tributary dams of the Lower Mekong Basin would produce less energy and pose greater risk to the environment, including catastrophic impacts on fish productivity and biodiversity, than the planned upper six Lower Mekong Basin mainstream dams.
The planned tributary dams that will yield the greatest impact on fisheries production are the Lower Sesan 2 in Cambodia, which will reduce basin-wide fish biomass production by 9.3 percent; the Sekong 3 Downstream in Lao PDR, which will reduce basin-wide fish biomass production by 2.3 percent; the Sekong 3 Upstream in Lao PDR, which will reduce basin-wide fish biomass production by 0.9 percent; and the Sekong 4 in Lao PDR, which will reduce basin-wide fish biomass production by 0.75 percent.
Dam development has been recognized as a potential catalyst for aquaculture in the region. Data on aquaculture production in the Mekong River Basin is generally poor. It is known that aquaculture production has increased in recent years, with the majority of growth occurring in the Mekong Delta A large portion of aquaculture production is, however, for export and does not therefore benefit regional diets.
In 2008, aquaculture production was estimated to be about 2 million tonnes, equivalent to 78 percent of wild fisheries consumption. Aquaculture in the Mekong is heavily concentrated in the Mekong Delta. As the Mekong Basin’s population grows, demand for aquatic resources will increase, hence driving up prices and improving investment opportunities for aquaculture. By 2015, it is predicted that aquaculture will be able to meet the extra demand for fish products, which is expected to exceed the capacity of wild capture fisheries. By 2020, it is expected that aquaculture production will no longer be able to keep up with demand, and pressure will return to wild capture fisheries to make up the shortfall.
Production is not the same as consumption. As has been well demonstrated elsewhere, the availability of large amounts of food does not necessarily equate with consumption if it is not distributed to those who need it, and the latter cannot afford to buy it. This is an important distinction between wild capture fisheries and aquaculture – aquaculture production must be paid for by those who consume it; this is not necessarily the case for wild capture fisheries.
Whether or not aquaculture can replace lost production from wild capture fisheries as a result of dams is uncertain. Scenario studies suggest that it can, under best case scenarios. Under mid-case assumptions there will also be excess yield, except when all mainstream dams are built. In the worst case scenarios, there would be a significant basin-wide deficit after 2015 of 436,000 tonnes per year. Most of this deficit would accrue in Cambodia. Thailand and the Vietnamese highlands would also suffer a deficit, and in Lao PDR there would be a small deficit in the worst case. The Mekong delta would be in excess under any scenario due to its large aquaculture production capacity.
Even if current trends to intensify aquaculture production continue, if nothing is done to mitigate and manage capture fisheries impacts, there will be a significant basin-wide deficit that could not be replaced by aquaculture. These figures do not include the large quantities of aquaculture products produced in the Mekong Delta that are or will be exported out of the Lower Mekong Basin. If kept in the basin, these could compensate for any basin-wide deficit, but it is not necessarily the case that increased production will benefit poor people. Therefore, the most-affected people would also be least able to pay for such products.
Aquaculture requires significant investment in addition to the technical and political support required to sustain it. and its future expansion has not been adequately assessed. Large-scale aquaculture does have significant ecological impacts, particularly through the accidental introduction of non-native species to rivers or the overharvest of fry populations from the wild used as fish feed. Small-scale aquaculture may, however, be able to contribute to increased food security in rural areas.
Currently, reservoir fisheries account for approximately 10 percent of Mekong fishery production. Reservoirs will not be able to support the same levels of fish diversity as the present riverine system (ICEM, 2010; Roberts, 1996). Only nine Mekong fish species are known to breed in reservoirs (Baran 2006). In the past, reservoir stocking has not been able to compensate for the level of capture fisheries losses. Reservoirs may become eutrophic and deoxygenated as well as sites of increased outbreaks of fish disease experienced after dam construction; such cases have been reported from some Mekong dam reservoirs. It is highly unlikely that reservoir fisheries will be able to compensate for fisheries losses.
- Mekong Delta
- Stung Sen River
- Se San River
- Tonle Sap
- Nam Ngum Dam
- International Rivers
- Mekong River Commission
- Yali Falls Dam
- Greater Mekong Sub-region Academic and Research Network
- GMS Environment Operations Center
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- 3S Rivers Protection Network
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- Cambodia National Mekong Committee
- Department of Energy Promotion and Development (EPD), Ministry of Energy and Mines (Lao PDR)
- Department of Water Resources (Thailand)
- Electricité du Laos
- Electricity Authority of Cambodia
- Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand
- Fisheries Action Coalition Team (Cambodia)
- GMS Academic and Research Network
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- Greater Mekong Subregion Environment Operations Center
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- International Rivers
- Lao National Mekong Committee
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- Mekong Environment and Resource Institute
- Mekong Institute
- Mekong Program on Water, Environment and Resilience
- Mekong River Commission
- Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Use Programme
- Nam Theun Hinboun Power Company
- Nam Theun 2
- Probe International
- Save the Mekong Campaign
- Stimson Institute Mekong Policy Project
- Sustainable Mekong Research Network (SUMERNET)
- Thailand National Mekong Committee
- Vietnam Electricity
- Vietnam National Mekong Committee
- WWF Greater Mekong Programme