Vientiane Times, November 13, 2013
Pakxe district, Champassak province: The Don Sahong hydropower project is not on the Mekong mainstream, according to an engineer working with the developer of the proposed power plant in the far south of this province.
Hou Sahong is one of many Mekong River channels in Champassak province.
Mega First Corp. Berhad hydropower engineer, Mr Graeme Boyd, on Monday cited four reasons why the project should not be considered a mainstream dam – first and foremost that it would not block the Mekong across its full width, instead stretching across one of many channels.
Mr Boyd was in Champassak to discuss the US$723.1 million project with more than 100 delegates from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, representatives from the Mekong River Commission (MRC) development partners and non-government and independent organisations and media from the region, as well as to make a site visit.
The dam is being built on the Hou Sahong channel, which runs the width of Don Sahong island. About 15 percent of the Mekong’s flow will pass through the 260MW run-of-river dam on average.
“The fact is that Hou Sahong is only one of many channels of the Mekong River. It only takes about 15 percent of the flow of the Mekong, while a mainstream dam takes 100 percent of the flow,” Mr Boyd said.
“Really, the Don Sahong project cannot be considered as a mainstream dam because it does not span the whole of the Mekong River.”
Mr Boyd said just 8 percent of the river’s sediment load would pass through the dam, as opposed to 100 percent in a mainstream dam.
He said other channels in the Siphandone area would continue to act as natural passages for flood flows, sediment and fish.
Mr Boyd has worked in hydropower for 27 years, including on projects in Laos and Vietnam.
“People don’t understand this one because it’s a complex project… I hope people will realise that it’s a good project,” he said.
The 1995 Mekong Agreement on sustainable development of the river requires certain procedures to be undertaken concerning hydropower projects on the Mekong mainstream.
However, the Lao government claims the Don Sahong dam is not on the mainstream and therefore it is not required to undergo the full prior consultation process with neighbouring countries.
On September 30, Laos provided notification to other countries about its decision to move ahead with the Don Sahong project. Notification is a step down from the prior consultation required for mainstream projects.
MRC Chief Executive Officer, Mr Hans Guttman, said the Mekong Agreement did not go into great detail on what is and what isn’t a mainstream project.
“The procedure for notification, prior consultation and agreement does stipulate what the mainstream is but not in great detail, and it doesn’t go into detail about certain channels and such. It talks about where it comes from and where it goes,” he said.
Mr Guttman said just because the dam was located in a part of the Mekong River did not mean it was a mainstream project.
“When people were talking about the 12 planned dams on the Mekong mainstream… people had the understanding that Don Sahong was one, Xayaboury was one,” he said.
Mr Guttmann said there needed to be more discussion of Laos’ plans for the Don Sahong dam.
“You can’t say they have breached the agreement…we don’t have that kind of detail,” he said.
“Hopefully the countries concerned can reach agreement on how to proceed on a sensible project that will benefit Laos and other countries as well.”
“We hope in the end that everyone will agree. And the MRC is there to support that,” he added.