Vientiane Times, 1 May 2013
Tasmania, Australia: A group of senior government officials have found a multi-purpose dam development project in Tasmania this week. “Water use in Australia is very effective and this is what Laos should learn from,” Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines, Mr Viraphonh Viravong said on Monday.
Mr Viraphonh was leading officials from the Ministry of Energy and Mines, Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Ministry of Planning and Investment on a visit to Meander Dam, one hour drive from the city centre of Launceston, Tasmania.
The dam tour is a part of the one week study tour by government officials to learn about the development of sustainable hydropower projects in Australia. The tour is being financed by a World Bank and AusAID project to strengthen the capacity of the energy and mines sector and organised by Hydro Tasmania.
At the dam site, Tasmania Irrigation’s General Operations Manager, Mr Mike O’ Shea explained to the visiting officials that the dam was designed to store water for agricultural purposes to ensure a sufficient supply of water to farmlands outside Launceston, the second largest city in Tasmania.
However, to ensure the effective use of the water, the dam was equipped with a power generator with an installed capacity of 2MW. The power generator produces power, which it can use to pump water from the river downstream to farmland on the mountains.
“It is a multi-purpose dam. The dam not only supplies water but also generates electricity, which the project can use to pump water from the river to elevated farmlands,” MrViraphonh said, adding that the cost of water supplies is very competitive.
The Meander Dam was initiated in 1980. However it was not built until 2001, due to ongoing studies and opposition from environmental groups who believed that the dam construction would cause damage to the river and its ecological systems.
Mr Mike O’ Shea told the visiting Lao officials that the dam development had brought positive changes to the farming industry in Launceston, explaining that large areas of farmland now have water supplies during the dry season, which was previously impossible.
He said that the dam is stimulating agricultural growth in and around Launceston, explaining that the price of farm land which has access to irrigation water saw a threefold increase after the dam was built. At present, the price of farmland is about AU$8,000 per hectare, he said. Mr O’Shea added that the dam plays an important role not only in preventing water shortages downstream but also helps to prevent flooding as well.
One of the important lessons which Lao officials learned from the study tour is that despite the fact that Australia is a developed nation, it still uses its natural resources to stimulate economic growth. The officials also feel that Laos is lucky to have plenty of water resources and the country needs to use them effectively and in sustainable ways. Laos should not allow water from its rivers to flow downstream without making use of it, they concluded.