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Mekong Dam Must Not Threaten Fish And Economy

by the Fish Site Editor
09 May 2011, at 1:00am

VIET NAM - Consultants planning to bid for a planned reappraisal of the controversial Xayaburi Dam proposal on the Mekong main stem need to commit to using current best practice in the hydropower industry, WWF has urged.

The call from WWF follows Mekong River Commission deferment of a decision on the dam amid mounting criticism from Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, expert panels and environment and community groups of a lack of information on key potential dam impacts – which could affect the food supplies and livelihoods of millions.

“Putting it frankly, the key documentation prepared by consultants for the promoters of this dam has been nowhere near international standards and it reflects very poorly on the consultants involved,” said Dr Jian-hua Meng, WWF International Sustainable Hydropower Specialist.

“WWF has been working closely with the international hydropower industry for many years on improving sustainability standards and we know what best practice looks like, we know that it is available and we would say this is clearly a case where the possible adverse consequences of getting it wrong make it mandatory.”

A recent review of the Xayaburi Environment Impact Assessment coordinated by the WorldFish Centre with participation from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and WWF found that “the gaps and flaws of the assessment lead to the conclusion that the Xayaburi EIA does not meet the international standards for Environmental Impact Assessments”.

Where assessments usually covered impacts upstream, in the project zone and downstream, the Xayaburi EIA “does not cover the upstream catchment area, considers a third of the project zone and does not address impacts beyond two kilometres downstream of the dam”.

On fisheries, a key concern of WWF, the EIA ignored most studies and relied heavily on “a very light field sampling” that captured “less than a third” of the biodiversity in the impact area.

Just five migratory species from a list compiled in 1994 were mentioned and just three of more than 28 studies of Mekong fish migration were referenced. In contrast, current studies show that 229 fish species exploit habitats upstream of the dam site for spawning or dry season refuges, with 70 classified as migratory.

The review finds the proposed fish passes for the dam ignore design guidelines, lack critical detail including any specification of target species and have a slope and steps which would be challenging even for strong swimming northern hemisphere salmon.

the Fish Site Editor