Lao: Dam Project Green-Lighted

Vientiane -The very controversial Don Sahong Dam, to be built in the scenic Si Phan Don area of Champasak Province in southern Laos, is getting the green light by the Lao Government. The run-of-the-river dam will operate year-round and produce 260 megawatts of electricity, mostly for domestic consumption.

In its notification, submitted to the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat on September 30, Lao authorities provided a complete technical feasibility study, including social and environmental impact assessments and a fisheries study for the project, which will be shared with the other MRC member countries – Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Construction work is expected to start in November 2013 and finish by February 2018, with the dam set to begin operating in May 2018.

Lao Energy Vice Minister Viraphonh Viravong earlier told The Nation that the Don Sahong Dam is too small to cause any serious environmental impact on the Mekong River. It would generate electricity only for local consumption in the southern region of the country. “In the Lao language, we call it ‘hou’ Sahong, meaning we put generators at a hole in the river to get electricity. We don’t block the river to create a big reservoir,” he said.

Conservationists told Laos to cancel this project, along with the other mainstream dams, before it’s too late. There are altogether 10 international donors, including the European Union, Japan and the US.

“If the MRC fails to clamp down on Laos, it will be failing its mandate and will lose any validity they have left as an organisation,” said Ame Trandem of the conservationist NGO International Rivers.

In addition to the Don Sahong Dam, 41 projects on the tributaries of the Mekong have so far been submitted for the notification process – three in Cambodia, 17 in Laos, two in Thailand and 19 in Vietnam.

The Xayaburi Dam, which is already under construction, is the only one so far to have been proposed on the mainstream and therefore submitted for the prior consultation process. AT/Reinhard Hohler