Vientiane Times, November 01 2012
The Lao government and the Xayaboury dam developers have gone to great lengths to allay the concerns of neighbouring countries when it comes to the construction of the hydropower plant.
They have sought to mitigate any potential effects that may occur up or down stream, making numerous concessions to critics who have said the dam will disrupt fish passage or sediment flows.
The government and the project developers recently decided to invest an additional US$100 million to improve the initial design, to allow the effective passage of fish and ensure adequate sediment flows, based on the advice of international consulting firms.
The developers have also commissioned hydrological studies in relation to sediment flows and built a to-scale model to ensure that the dam will function as intended and sediment flows are similar to the natural condition of the river.
Meanwhile navigation by river traffic will be unimpeded as the dam design incorporates a navigation lock which will allow both small and large craft to pass up and downstream of the dam.
Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Mr Viraphonh Viravong said the redesign reflects the fact that Laos is taking into account any possible concerns of the Mekong River Commission member countries. The government is working hard to improve the design and build a ‘transparent dam’ that allows river traffic, fish and sediment to pass.
Although the redesign will cost a significant amount of money, Laos has committed to going ahead with the revised design to ensure the project causes no negative cross-border impacts, aiming to maintain good relations with neighbouring countries.
Mr Viraphonh said that, in fact, the run-of-river dam will not have any major impacts on the environment because it does not incorporate a reservoir that will retain a large body of water and upstream water levels will rise only marginally.
Despite this fact, he stressed, the Lao government and the developers have tried their best to address the concerns of neighbouring countries.
“Countries downstream are concerned about two things – fish passage and sediment flushing. Now we are addressing their concerns through the new project design,” Mr Viraphonh said. “I’m confident that the redesigned dam will cause no impact on the downstream environment.”
The US$3.8 billion project is based on run-of-river principles and does not store large bodies of water like other dams.
The development concept was to build a transparent dam, meaning that everything that enters the dam can pass through it.
Some people have asked why Laos has chosen to spend such a lot of money to commission the hydraulic modeling tests. Mr Viraphonh said the tests were necessary because Laos wants to build a transparent dam that establishes best practices and is viable over the longer term.
The 1,285MW hydropower plant will play a significant role in improving public infrastructure, education and healthcare for local people, helping them to rise above poverty, and is expected to take eight years to complete.
The project will play an important role in the socio-economic development of Laos and the government’s poverty reduction efforts, which aim to see Laos graduate from least developed country status by 2020.
The design of the Xayaboury dam complies with the 1995 agreements drawn up by the Mekong River Commission, according to Mr Viraphonh.
“We are following all the 1995 agreements, in the interests of sustainable development and promoting cooperation among the countries of the Greater Mekong Sub-region,” he said.