27 Jul 2008

Killing the Mekong

This piece discusses an exciting "development":
The Mekong River, 4,500 miles long and the world's 10th largest in total discharge, is fast becoming a global magnet for water power, a cheap resource sought by industries as divergent as semiconductors and aluminum smelting, for which electricity makes up half the cost of production.


So many hydropower projects are being developed along the Mekong River that the United Nations has formed an oversight agency devoted exclusively to preventing potential conflicts it could create.


More than a dozen dams on Mekong tributaries in Laos should start generating electricity mostly for export by 2015, and plans to build more than 30 others are being actively considered.
These projects are good for economic development, but they will have an adverse impact on the ecology of the Mekong, the last undammed [correction:* longest undammed (as of 1996)] river in the world. I hope that people who depend on seasonal flooding of the Mekong for fish and rice have alternative sources of food.

I took this picture in northern VN, but the topography at the Delta is similar.

Bottom Line: Dams disrupt age old patterns of water flow. Unfortunately, those adversely affected rarely receive the benefits from the dam.

* Correction: The Mekong was undammed until 1996, when China built the first dam. Since then, China has built many more dams. Recent dam construction is further downriver. Thanks to RH for pointing this out.


  1. Sources of the Mekong are in Himalayan glaciers, which are melting. The dams can probably count on monsoons which are notoriously variable interannually. One wonders about hydrology in this brave new, hotter world.

  2. Yikes, just after posting the above comment, the following appeared in an RSS feed from Nature News, "If glaciers continue to retreat and snowpack shrinks atop the plateau (Tibetan, FC), the water supplies of billions of people will be in danger." You can read about it in the July 25 post at Yale Environment 360 site, http://e360.yale.edu/


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