Vientiane Times, November 11, 2013
Laos is taking steps to convince neighbouring countries of the merits of the planned Don Sahong hydropower
Government officials organised a site visit on Sunday and Monday so that interested parties could see the site first-hand and get a sense of the natural and social environment of the project area in the far south of Champassak province.
The site visit was arranged after the Lao government notified neighbouring countries through the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission (MRC) of its decision to proceed with development of the 260MW run-of-river dam.
More than 100 people are visiting the site of the US$723.1 million project. Plans call for the group to travel by boat to the dam site and walk along the channels through the Siphandone area where the Mekong River flows into Cambodia.
The visit was organised by the Ministry of Energy and Mines together with the Lao National Mekong Committee and the project developer, Malaysia’s Mega First Corporation Berhad (MFCB).
Delegations from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and representatives from MRC development partners, NGOs, independent organisations and regional media outlets were invited to take part.
The site visit aims to demonstrate that the dam will not be built on the Mekong mainstream, and that Laos is complying with the 1995 Mekong Agreement on sustainable development.
The aim of the visit is to provide accurate information regarding Laos’ decision to develop the project and to gather feedback.
The main concerns of neighbouring countries are fish passage and migration through the area.
Senior Environmental Manager of the Don Sahong Hydropower Project, Dr Peter Hawkins, said once the dam is built, fish will be able use several other channels for upstream and downstream migration.
Some news outlets have erroneously reported that the Hou Sahong, which will be dammed, is the only channel for fish migration beyond the Khonphapeng Falls in the dry season. Some critics have said the channel is the only fish passage route year-round.
But Dr Hawkins said this was simply not true. With appropriate mitigation measures, fish will be able to pass through several other channels, he said.
Rather than call this the Siphandone (Four Thousand Islands) area, it should be called “Siphanhou” (Four Thousand Channels) because there are so many channels, he added.
Already, he said, fish can use the nearby Hou Sadam for upstream and downstream migration. Earlier this year, villagers worked with project staff to remove rocks, traps and other barriers and, as a result, Hou Sadam is now about 0.5m deeper.
The developers also plan to remove rapids and rocks from Hou Xangpheuak so that more fish can pass through that channel, which is similar to but larger than Hou Sahong.
Some foreign media and environmental activists have alleged Laos is in violation of the 1995 Mekong Agreement as it failed to conduct prior consultation with downstream neighbours before giving the project the go-ahead.
Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines, Mr Viraphonh Viravong, said Laos did not breach the 1995 agreement because it does not regard Hou Sahong as part of the Mekong mainstream.
The mainstream of the Mekong could be considered Khonphapheng and Lipi because the water flow through Lipi represents 60 percent of the total river flow, while the flow through Khonphapheng accounts for 30 percent.
Mr Viraphonh said Laos did not regard the dam as being on the “Mekong mainstream”, which would require prior consultation.