Vientiane Times, 14 August 2013
The Nam Ngum I dam is not expecting to release water this rainy season because the level is still four metres below the danger mark, a plant technician said.
A technician from the dam’s Operation and Control Division, Mr Phetphouthon Inthapadtha, told *Vientiane Times *during a trip to visit villages along the Nam Ngum River on Monday that the water level is now 208 metres above sea level and the dam can only cope with a level of 212 metres.
“If the water level reaches 212.3 metres, we need to begin a process of relieving pressure, but before this we have to inform local communities to prepare to avoid flooding,” he said.
“However, we’re not expecting to discharge any water in this instance.”
In 2011, the dam released water when tropical storms Nock-Ten and Haima passed over Laos, subsequently destroying the crops of many farmers and causing damage to people’s homes.
A Vientiane Times reporter accompanied a group to Tanpiew village in Vientiane province after the Nam Ngum river level increased dramatically late last weekend causing flooding in the area.
Village Head Mr Soudsakhon Vannaly said the water rose continuously last week and three days of heightened river levels saw sweetcorn fields and rice paddies inundated.
“Luckily, many farmers decided to harvest their corn before the water flooded their lands. However, some still cannot access their farms and we are working to assess the severity of the losses,” he said.
He added that the village has faced flooding over the past three years as a result of the dam discharging water. The village did receive advance warning from plant officials but, coupled with last weekend’s inundation of water, difficult times have become a regular occurrence in the rainy season for Tanpiew residents.
“It’s easy to know what has been happening on the watercourse,” Mr Soudsakhon said. “The water will be very clear and without any tree branches or other waste if the dam has opened its gates, but when it’s brown and full of debris we know it’s due to heavy rainfall and is natural, not the result of manmade flooding.”
He said the villagers were aware this time around that it was rainfall which caused the river level to rise and not the dam.
The village has 2,035 residents in 402 families, most of whom are farmers. There are 1,200 hectares of rice fields, but just 480 hectares are usable throughout the year.
In the dry season it is very difficult to cultivate land as the low river level means the irrigation system cannot supply water to the higher growing areas.
Sweetcorn has been planted on 180 hectares of village land this year.
“I have lost around four hectares of crops out of my 11 hectares in total from this flooding. It’s impossible to harvest this because of the flood threat,” said Tanpiew villager Mr Laythong Phasaiyaseng.
He said he was the biggest grower of corn in the village and that the crop could sell for 1.5 million kip per tonne.
An older farmer, Mr Bounthee Sihalath, said he will now only be able to harvest one hectare of corn as a result of the flooding and his wife has lost almost half a hectare.