Second Lao dam on Mekong underway - group

BANGKOK, Thailand - Preparatory work on the Don Sahong Dam on the Mekong River in Laos is under way, despite a lack of approval from Laos' neighbors, an environmental group said Wednesday, June 26.

According to International Rivers, which last week visited the site of the dam at the Khone Falls in Champassak province in southern Laos, the project's developer - Malaysia's Mega First Corporation Bhd - has hired local people to place markers for access roads and a bridge and to clear river channels in the neighborhood.

"Villagers reported to us that construction on the Don Sahong Dam’s bridge and access roads will begin in 2014," said Ame Trandem, International Rivers’ Southeast Asia Program Director.

The preparatory work is going on even though the Lao government has yet to start the Mekong River Commission’s prior consultation process, as required under the 1995 Mekong Agreement, she said.

Under the regional agreement, any dam built on the lower Mekong requires the approval of the riparian countries of Southeast Asia's longest waterway, which include Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

Laos in November officially began construction on the first dam on the Lower Mekong in northern Xayaburi province, despite serious objections from the Mekong River Commission partners and ongoing concerns about its potential impact on fisheries.

"It's clear that the Don Sahong Dam is following the same trajectory that the Xayaburi Dam took, in which secrecy and illicit project implementation topples regional cooperation," Trandem said.

Both the Xayaburi and Don Sahong are run-of-river dams, requiring only small reservoirs and little displacement of villagers.

The Xayaburi project's developers have included fish ladders and fish elevators in their dam designs, but questions remain about the potential impact on fish migration in the 4,880-kilometers-long Mekong.

The Don Sahong Dam would construct a barrier between two islands in the Mekong on the Hou Sahong Channel, which is currently the only channel in the area that allows year-round fish migration.

The area is home to Laos' only year-round population of Irrawaddy dolphins and a migratory passage point for the Mekong giant catfish, both of which are endangered species. -