Critics of the 1,285-megawatt Xayaburi hydropower dam in northern Laos fear recent upgrades to the controversial project won’t be enough to save the Mekong River from a critical tipping point when it starts churning out electricity at full throttle next month.
After seven years of construction, it will be the first of 11 dams planned for the river south of China — which has built 11 dams across the Mekong already — to go online.
Some 50 million people downstream rely for a living on the river’s waters, along with the fish and sediment it washes their way. Researchers and environmental advocates say the dam could block both.
“With this year’s drought and the contribution to lower river levels from the cumulative effects of upstream dams holding back water, I think that the so-called ecological tipping point of the Mekong might have already arrived; if not, it’s certainly fast approaching,” Brian Eyler, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Stimson Center who heads the research group’s Mekong Policy Project, told VOA.
“That means that the cumulative effects of these dams are creating processes that ultimately reduce the mightiness of the Mekong to a river that is harnessed and entirely managed, and therefore the natural properties of what the Mekong provides are stunted or potentially erased,” he said.