The government of Germany has provided equipment for the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to monitor transboundary environmental impacts from two mainstream dams on the Lower Mekong River.
The equipment, worth around USD 0.6 million, is part of the German support to the MRC’s pilot programme on Joint Environment Monitoring of Mekong Mainstream Hydropower Projects (JEM), a two-year program running from 2020 to 2021. The donated equipment includes such items as sediment and discharge monitoring tools, microscopes, water quality loggers, algae torches, a boat, fish tags and traps, and GPS devices.
“While Germany acknowledges that hydropower development can offer a high potential for economic growth, it also poses great challenges in terms of adverse transboundary impacts on the environment and people’s socio-economic well-being,” German Ambassador to Lao PDR, Mr Jens Lütkenherm, said during the handover ceremony in Vientiane attended by German embassy staff, the MRC Secretariat and the Secretary-General of the Lao National Mekong Committee.
“We support the MRC in monitoring the impacts from the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams and in advising the four governments on measures to reduce the adverse cross-border environmental impacts,” he added.
The Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams were the first two projects to have been built on the main channel of the Mekong River in Lao PDR. During their six-month prior consultation process under the MRC’s procedures and throughout construction, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and other concerned stakeholders called for a program to properly assess impacts from the dams once in operation.
The JEM is a response to this call. It aims to systematically collect, generate and share reliable scientific data and information through a standardised basin-wide joint environmental monitoring programme on site-specific issues that have cross-national implications.
The equipment will be installed in at least three locations at each dam to collect data on hydrology and hydraulics, sediment, water quality, aquatic ecology, and fish and fisheries.
Data collected during the pilot stage will enable the MRC to refine proposed monitoring approaches and methodologies for basin-wide application and incorporation into the MRC’s core monitoring work. This, in turn, will make it possible to monitor the efficacy of the mitigation measures of each hydropower dam on the mainstream.
“With the equipment provided by Germany today, we will be able to collect key data to inform us on the effectiveness of the dam facilities, including fish passes and sediment flushing gates,” said Dr An Pich Hatda, MRC Secretariat Chief Executive Officer. “This is the first but crucial step for us to identify some practical adaptive management actions and initial mitigation measures that could eventually help address some of the potential impacts from the two dams.”
Germany has been a traditional funding partner of the MRC since it was founded in 1995. It has provided both technical and financial support to the MRC worth close to EUR 50 million. Over the last 25 years, the German support has enabled the MRC to implement various strategic activities, including institutional reforms, sustainable hydropower development, integrated water resources management, flood mitigation, and climate change response.