Worries Over Environmental Impact of Dam

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[The Cambodia Daily] Civil society and government officials both raised serious concerns Tuesday over a planned dam on the Mekong River located in Laos, close to the Cambodian border, saying the project would block one of the most important fish migration routes on the Mekong and mitigating the dam’s impact on fish stocks and livelihoods would be adversely affected.

Speaking on the sidelines of a workshop on the potential impact of the Don Sahong Dam, Por Try, secretary of state for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said any Mekong River dam affecting Cambodia’s fish stocks made the government “concerned.”

“There is scientific consensus that Don Sahong Dam will have an impact on fisheries,” Carl Middleton of the International Rivers said about the 360 Megawatt dam located less than 2 km from the Lao-Cambodian border.

“The location of the proposed dam is probably the worst possible place to site a [360 MW] project since it is the point of maximum concentration of fish migration in the river,” Mr. Middleton said, citing a letter signed by 34 international fisheries experts, which was sent to governments and international agencies in May 2007.

The Don Sahong Dam is planned on one of the main channels of the Mekong River in an area called “the 4000 islands,” where the river splits into many parts.  The area is known for its biodiversity and for being a refuge for endangered species, such as the Mekong River Dolphin and the Giant Mekong Catfish, Mr. Middleton said.

Among 11 hydropower projects on the mainstream Mekong, Don Sahong Dam is in the most advanced stage and has been approved by the Laotian government, which has accepted feasibility and environmental impact studies, Mr Middleton said, adding that no project details have been made public.

“Even based on the information we have, the risks are very high,” regional program manger of the World Fish Center Ms Yumiko Kura said.

“Existing mitigation technology, cannot handle the scale and diversity of fish migration in the Mekong,” she said, adding that in some parts of the Mekong 3 million fish migrated through each hour.

So Nam, director of the Fisheries Department’s Inland Fishery Research and Development Institute, said dam development must avoid changes in water level and the natural water flow regime and find a way to solve the problem of fish passages through dams, as 80 percent of all Tonle Sap Lake fish are migratory and a lowering of water levels is known to directly affect fish stocks.

Kuy Chanthy, 41, a fisherman in O’Svay commune, Stung Treng province, attending the workshop said people in his community located close to the dam site were worried about its effects on fish stocks and the quality of the river water, which they use domestically.

“[It] will affect our fishing and standard of living, but it is not only us; it will affect all Cambodians,” he added.

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