Vientiane Times, March 24, 2014
A number of foreign diplomats and Mekong River Commission (MRC) representatives and news media have raised questions after visiting the planned location of the Don Sahong project in the southern province of Champassak, according to a senior government official.
The Lao government and developer Mega First Corporation on March 11-12 brought more than 100 people, including diplomats, environmental experts and news media, to view the site of natural fish channels that can bypass waterfalls and rapids in Khong district, Champassak province.
They wanted to know: What if the plan to widen and deepen channels to improve dry season fish migration doesn’t work? And, why doesn’t Laos agree to conduct a Prior Consultation process rather than give Notification under the 1995 Mekong Agreement?
“At the end of the day, they questioned what happens if Hou Sadam and Hou Xangpheuak are not effective as fish pathways,” said Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines, Mr Viraphonh Viravong. “The answer is fish have been using these channels for thousands of years, until recently.
“There are several factors behind the decline in dry season fish migration over Khone Falls. “First, because of climate change, the dry season is longer and there is less water in the dry season.
“Second, there is more water usage in the dry season due to irrigation, agriculture, domestic and industrial use by more and more people.
“Then there is over-fishing all the way from Cambodia’s Tonle Sap to Khone Falls. With so many fish traps and without environmentally sound regulations on the fishery, fewer fish are reaching feeding grounds and spawning grounds.
“If we can remedy these impacts, fish will return to the channels,” he said.
According to Mr Viraphonh, the second question is why the Lao PDR chose to give the Mekong River Commission a formal notification on the Don Sahong project rather than conduct the prior consultation process undertaken for the Xayabury Hydropower Project in Xayaboury province.
“If it would make Don Sahong a better project, then maybe it would be worth changing it,” said Mr Viraphonh. “In fact, we are already doing everything required under prior consultation, maybe more.”
In submitting notification last September, the Lao PDR noted that the proposed Don Sahong project does not include a dam spanning the whole river; the average natural flow in Hou Sahong is equivalent to only 5 percent; and the overall flow in the Mekong mainstream would not change.
Don Sahong is the second Mekong dam in Laos. The project aims to supply electricity to southern Laos is planned in the Hou Sahong, a major channel for upstream dry-season fish migration.