Laos has begun formal consultation on the Pak Lay hydropower dam project in its northern province of Xayaburi amid environmental concerns that it will impact the Cambodian stretch of the Mekong River.
Under a 1995 Mekong River agreement, member states are required to fulfil a process notification and consultation process with the Mekong River Commission, which received a report from Laos last week.
The report outlines the details of the project for review. The commission is required to formally inform other member countries regarding the scope of the project.
Laos and a developer conducted their own environmental impact assessment prior to investing to revise the dam’s design in order to accommodate fish migration and sediment, two of the main concerns raised by MRC member countries.
“It has a clear endpoint with concrete planning toward enhancing measures to mitigate potential transboundary impacts while enhancing good faith among member countries,” said Pham Tuan Phan, the MRC’s CEO. “We learned lessons from previous cases. It has allowed us to be more prepared to assist reviews of projects, assess technical aspects and conclude in an inclusive and meaningful way.”
Construction of the Pak Lay hydropower dam is expected to commence in 2022 and finish by 2029. When completed, the dam is expected to produce 770 megawatts of electricity year round.
However, Om Savath, executive director of Fisheries Action Coalition Team, said that environmental concerns could not be ignored, regardless of the dam’s economic benefit for Laos.
“We are very concerned about this plan because Cambodia’s part of the Mekong River is below Laos,” Mr Savath said.
He said that the concern came after Laos decided to propose nine hydropower projects, adding that Cambodia only has two proposed hydropower projects in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.
“We don’t agree with the Laos construction project,” he said. “It will impact water flow and the migration of fish. But it all depends on our government’s decision.”
Yin Savuth, director of the Hydrology Department and spokesman at the Water Resources and Meteorology Ministry, said that the project will be reviewed.
“It will be discussed with other members of the Mekong River Commission,” Mr Savuth said.