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6 Jan, 2021 15:08

Beijing alerts Mekong River neighbors to restricted waterflow amid dam maintenance, as experts cry foul over late warning

Beijing alerts Mekong River neighbors to restricted waterflow amid dam maintenance, as experts cry foul over late warning

China has warned other states along the Mekong River that maintenance works on a hydroelectric dam will cause a considerable reduction in flow for 20 days, sparking ecological concerns over the fish-rich waterway.

On Wednesday, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) said that water levels along the waterway are likely to drop by about 1.20 meters, following China’s notification a day earlier that it would be restricting the flow. The announcement came almost a week after experts were first alerted to restricted waterflow upstream.

The disclosure by China’s Ministry of Water Resources said that waterflow from the Jinghong hydropower station would be reduced by 1,000 cubic meters per second (m³/s) from January 5 to 24, due to the “maintenance of transmission lines of the power grid.” 

According to the MRC, Beijing said levels will gradually be increased to normal operation status on January 25, without specifying the volume to be restored. 

The announcement comes after the MRC’s partners observed, using new US-funded technology, a near 50-percent reduction in waterflow from the Jinghong hydropower station on December 31. China had not notified its Mekong neighbors of this move. 

The new Mekong Dam Monitor said on Monday that restricting waterflow suddenly could “be devastating for fish recruitment,” and blasted China’s decision not to inform its neighbors sooner. 

The Mekong River, which winds down from the Tibetan Plateau through China and into Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam boasts the world’s largest inland fishery.

Fishing on the river accounts for up to a quarter of the global freshwater catch, and provides a living for around 60 million people in South East Asia, according to the World Wildlife Fund. 

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Beijing has built 11 dams along the Mekong since 1995.

In December, the US funded a project using satellites to track and publish real-time water levels at Chinese dams along the Mekong River, a move which further exacerbated tensions between Beijing and Washington.

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