MRC Promotes Responsible Water Resources Management & Development

MRC Makes Strides to Promote Responsible Water Resources Management and Development
Mekong River in Laos' Luang Prabang (photo: iStock)

The Mekong River Commission released two flagship documents on Tuesday, aiming to maximize the potential benefits of hydropower and other water-related development projects while minimizing significant harmful impact—on the environment and the millions of people living along this Southeast Asia’s largest river.

Specifically, the MRC launched two sets of guidelines for developers to make their projects more sustainable: the Preliminary Design Guidance for Proposed Mainstream Dams (known as the PDG) and the Guidelines for Transboundary Environmental Impact Assessment (or TbEIA).

“The four MRC members are well aware of the growing challenges facing the Mekong River as it is undergoing tremendous transformations,” said Dr. Anoulak Kittikhoun, CEO of the MRC Secretariat, during the launch ceremony in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. “That is why these documents are timely and critical as they demonstrate the steadfast commitment and collective efforts of the MRC members to address issues of regional importance.”

Moreover, said Kittikhoun, “while each country already has a national regulatory system for hydropower constructions and operations within their borders, there are no common sets of guidelines to address the transboundary impacts of a project. Now we have the latest, joint approaches to manage our shared water resources.”

The old PDG – introduced in 2009 – covered more technical aspects of dam construction and operations, such as hydraulics, sediment transport, geomorphology, water quality, aquatic ecology, fish and fisheries, dam safety, and navigation.

The new PDG is an updated version that includes hydrology and socio-economic impact, focusing even more on riparian communities and riverine livelihoods.

With many recent changes, eleven hydropower projects are now proposed along the Mekong, with two already operational; MRC Member Countries have learned from learned own experience with hydropower and examples and best practices worldwide. After four years of negotiations – among Member Countries, developers, and other stakeholder groups – this updated PDG incorporates the most current knowledge regarding design criteria, science, and technology.

Meanwhile, the TbEIA is a similarly sensitive mechanism that touches upon national processes, which helps explain why it took years to finalize. While each country has its own environmental impact assessments to determine if a project impacts domestic irrigation, navigation, mining, aquaculture, and other areas, this TbEIA is a breakthrough that will ideally work in the region’s interests as a tool of trust building, consultation, and cooperation.

Suppose a neighbor anticipates that a project, whether large-scale irrigation or navigation, might cause negative impacts across the borders. In that case, the parties involved can jointly apply the TbEIA to collect data, assess impact, and present evidence-based recommendations.

“The leadership of our four countries deserve praise for courageously moving forward with implementing and testing out these guidelines in the real world,” said Kittikhoun, “as such things are absent in many shared river basins around the world.”