Chinese dams on the Mekong River have begun releasing water during the river’s normal dry season, causing trouble for wildlife, farmers and fishermen in Laos, sources in the Southeast Asian country told RFA.
“The Mekong River water level is up 12 centimeters [4.7 inches] from yesterday,” an official of the Natural Resources and Environment Department of Laos’ northwestern Bokeo province told RFA’s Lao Service April 2.
According to the official, the water level in Bokeo was at 2.52 meters (99.2 inches) on April 2.
“I think the Chinese dams might be releasing water, but I’m not sure because I’ve not been officially informed,” the official said.
Fluctuating water levels in Southeast Asia’s most important waterway pose threats to aquatic plants and fish, which thousands of people living along the Mekong in Laos rely on for their livelihood.
A fisherman from Laos’ northwestern Xayaburi province told RFA that a sudden change in water level was bad for fish stocks.
“The Mekong River has risen about 10 centimeters [four inches]. I’m concerned that the rising water will affect aquatic vegetation and fish,” the fisherman said.
“Before, the water was thick and rich in sediment. Now it is clear and has fewer fish. The fish are reproducing less and less these days. During this time of year, the fish lay their eggs, but when the water rushes through, it washes them all away,” said the fisherman.
A farmer from the same province said the unpredictable water levels made his work difficult.
“The water level depends on Chinese dams, and the waterflow is not natural. It’s hard to make a living on the river these days,” the farmer said.
In the capital Vientiane, a vegetable garden owner told RFA that the increased water level was good for some industries but bad for others.
“The water level is up by about one ladder step over the past two days. That’s good for boat navigation, but bad for fishing and vegetable planting. I grow peanuts on a sand bed that is about to be flooded,” the gardener said.
Montree Chanthawong, a Thailand-based Mekong River expert, told RFA that the river’s water level is not supposed to rise during the dry season.
“The rising water could hurt aquatic species like fish and aquatic vegetation. Some of them could even die. Sparrows lay their eggs on the sand beds too, and when the water level rises these can become flooded,” he said.
Nowat Roykaew, the president of the Thailand-based Chiang Khong Conservation Group, told RFA that water levels in the Mekong have been fluctuating since January.
“Sometimes it goes up a lot like right now. I notice that the rising water is now clear. That means the water is coming from Chinese dams, because if it came from rain, it would be turbid. The water fluctuation has broken down the whole eco-system,” he said.
Data from the Washington-based Stimson Center’s Mekong Dam Monitor project indicated that during the week of…