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Flood control in the Mekong: ICEM develops tool to identify hydropower dams in need of improved management and design

ICEM recently released the first technical brief from our ongoing study into the impact of water supply infrastructure on floods and drought in the Mekong region (MK12): Reservoir Flood Control Index: Assessing the Flood Risk and Capacity for Control in Mekong Hydro-Electric Reservoirs. The brief outlines a basin-wide tool called the Reservoir Flood Control Index that will allow developers, government and communities to understand the relative risk associated with existing and planned large hydro-electric projects in the Mekong basin.

There are currently upwards of 140 medium and large-scale hydropower projects existing and under consideration across the Lower Mekong Basin. Typically, national and regional planners have had trouble identifying the projects that have the greatest associated flood risk, and developing appropriate measures to incorporate flood control. ICEM’s Reservoir Flood Control Index (the Index) tool will identify these projects and provide an indication of basin-wide priorities for integrating flood control into reservoir design and operations.

The Index uses multi-criteria analysis to assess catchment hydrological characteristics (or the potential for flooding) against the physical and technical capacity of hydropower dams to store and release floodwater, as well as the possible extent of impact on downstream inhabitants and land-use. By using a two-step process, the Index integrates these diverse characteristics to rank flood threat, flood control and downstream damage for hydropower across the basin in a clear and transparent risk table. Planners can then consult the table to understand whether the reservoir will fall into one of the three main categories:

  • Priority reservoirs which require improvement of management to incorporate flood control;
  • Priority reservoirs which require improvement of reservoir design to incorporate flood control; and
  • Reservoirs that are located in areas with low flood threat […]
  • SEA of Hydropower on the Mekong Mainstream - Summary Report

SEA of Hydropower on the Mekong Mainstream: Summary of the Final Report

> Download report
> More reports in this Special Reports Series
Over the past few years, investors and developers mostly from China, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have submitted proposals for twelve hydropower projects for the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) mainstream. Those proposals are among the largest and most significant developments ever considered by LMB countries. It is the relatively sudden revival of many proposals at the same time and for the same shared river that led LMB countries to call for a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of all 12 proposals to be conducted under the MRC framework of cooperation.

This SEA focuses on proposals located in three distinct hydro-ecological zones and assesses them in five different dam groupings. The report contains recommendations on LMB mainstream dam development processes, developed by the SEA team, including the following:

This summary report was prepared for the Mekong River Commission Secretariat (MRCS) by ICEM specialists, who were engaged to facilitate the SEA. The SEA process was undertaken in a collaborative process involving the MRC Secretariat, National Mekong Committees of the four countries as well as civil society, private sector and other stakeholders.

By |July 23rd, 2013|Comments Off on SEA of Hydropower on the Mekong Mainstream: Summary of the Final Report

Mekong Fish Migrations, Hydrology and Hydropower Dam Fish Passes

About: This significant study is the first of its kind for the Mekong River and will provide the foundation for understanding fish migration dynamics to inform realistic and sustainable design of fish passes for proposed hydropower dams. The objective of the project is to assess the hydro?geomorphologic requirements of fish migrations using the Khone Falls as a natural laboratory.
By |March 15th, 2013|Comments Off on Mekong Fish Migrations, Hydrology and Hydropower Dam Fish Passes

SEA of Hydropower on the Mekong Mainstream

Donor / Partner: Mekong River Commission  (MRC)    |    Duration: 2009-2010     |    Location: Mekong countries
About: ICEM was commissioned by the Mekong River Commission to undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of 11 planned hydropower dams along the mainstream Mekong River, in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam. The SEA ran for 12 months and assessed the wider economic, social and environmental implications of the proposed developments. The final SEA report is also available to download below in English and Vietnamese. The Vietnamese translation was completed in collaboration with Pan Nature.

The Project aimed to identify potential risks, opportunities and contributions of hydropower to regional development. This was achieved through assessing alternative mainstream Mekong hydropower development strategies, in particular considering regional cost distribution and benefits to economic development, social equity and environmental protection. The Strategic Environmental Assessment considered all planned and committed hydropower and development activities in the LMB. It also assessed climate change impacts on river hydrology, agriculture and hydropower.

The SEA was also developed to be used as a pilot to show the process and benefits of SEA in identifying likely impacts on environmental, social and economic variables in LMB for all MRC member countries.

Key outputs of the project included recommendations on the mitigation and monitoring of impacts and technical, policy & institutional guidance for SEA and hydropower development.

The project also built capacity for SEA, principally within the NMCs, national agencies responsible for power development and those concerned with facilitating application of SEA and EIA. Government staff received on-the job training and participated in components of the SEA.

The SEA had four main objectives:

The SEA utilized an extensive program of data collection, interviews and a comprehensive program of national and regional government consultations involving representatives from a wide spectrum of the national governments, civil-society […]

By |February 20th, 2010|Comments Off on SEA of Hydropower on the Mekong Mainstream

Optimising cascades or systems of reservoirs in small catchments (MK3) – Report series

MK3: Optimising Cascades aimed at identifying the potential for multiple use of water in cascades of hydropower reservoirs, and at making suggestions for coordinated and equitable management of these uses. The principal hypothesis behind this research is that multiple use of the land and water resources surrounding a cascade of dams and reservoirs can be integrated and made compatible with hydropower production.

The following reports and materials were produced as part of the project:

By |January 9th, 2018|0 Comments

Capacity Statement – Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones, are revolutionizing the way we conduct environmental research and management. ICEM has increasingly been applying this technology as part of the range of tools and methodologies that has given us a reputation as leaders in climate change and energy planning, biodiversity conservation, water and natural resources management, and integrated environmental assessments.

> Download our Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Capacity Statement


See drone footage used to perform in-depth analysis of channel morphology as part of the project, Informing the design of fish passes to mitigate the impact of dams on fish migrations in the Lower Mekong Basin


See drone footage of the four demonstration sites of the project, Promoting Climate Resilient Rural Infrastructure in Northern Vietnam


Read more about the Environmental Study of the Lancang-Mekong Development Plan, where drone footage is utilised to document affected stretches of this important river

By |December 26th, 2017|0 Comments

Khone Falls, Champasak Province, Lao PDR

The Khone Falls fish pass study is the first of its kind in the Mekong region. For the most part, fish pass design has been based on studies conducted outside the Mekong region and with a focus on fish species not found in the Mekong River. The project aims to assess the swimming capabilities of migratory fish species in the Khone Falls to help design fish passes that are tailored to the needs and capabilities of Mekong fish species.
By |July 9th, 2015|0 Comments

ICEM Participates in 2015 FOSS4GNA Geospatial Conference in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – 9 – 12 March, 2015: ICEM Participates in 2015 FOSS4GNA Geospatial Conference in San Francisco

ICEM presented at this year’s FOSS4GNA in San Francisco. FOSS4GNA is one of the largest global gatherings focused on open source geospatial software. It brings together developers, users, decision-makers and observers from a broad spectrum of organizations and fields of operation to foster the development of and support for open source geospatial software in a variety of fields.

The presentation focused on ICEM’s map Impact of Water Supply Infrastructure on Floods and Droughts in the Mekong Region, which was built as part of the Optimising Cascades project. This interactive map highlights results of a study of 67 Mekong dams for indicators such as flood control capacity and natural flood threat of the dam’s catchment. Users are given the option to change which indicator they are viewing at any given time, thus changing the overall picture of floods and dams in the basin. Each map element contains deeper data and information.

The presentation highlighted in particular the Lower Se San Dam, which coincided well with the keynote delivered by Planet Labs, whose high-resolution satellite imagery recently captured the dam’s rapid construction.

FOSS4GNA also afforded the opportunity to develop connections with Development Seed. Development Seed’s work focuses mainly on humanitarian aid, however, its OpenDataKit collection of software, originally designed to gather spatial and on-the-ground information in refugee camps in Lebanon, will likely prove very effective in ICEM’s upcoming projects on the Salween and Irrawaddy rivers in […]

By |March 23rd, 2015|ICEM team news, News, Water news|0 Comments

Initial Field Mission Establishes Groundwork, Implements Hydraulic Monitoring Program in Khone Falls Channels

ICEM hydrologists have been undertaking field monitoring and training with researchers from WorldFish, the National University of Lao (NUoL), and Ubon Ratchathani Universtiy (UBU). The project Informing Fish Passage in the Mekong River aims to assess the swimming capabilities of migratory fish species in the Khone Falls, Chapasak in Southern Laos.

MK3: Optimising Cascades or Systems of Reservoirs in Small Catchments

Donor / Partner: CGIAR   |    Duration: 2012-2013   |    Location: Vietnam, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Thailand

About: While many hydropower projects in the Mekong Basin claim to be multiple purpose dams, the reality is that very few have truly been designed with this in mind. The maximisation of electricity generation determines the design and drives the operation and with it the timing and use of water. This usually leads to missed opportunities to use water in complementary ways to the benefit of both the hydropower company and the communities living around the dam and its reservoir. A series of dams in cascade within a river basin offer other opportunities for land and water management which should be considered, designed for, and managed in such a way as to optimise the multiple use of water as it flows through the cascade. MK3: Optimising Cascades was a three year research program conducted between 2010 and 2013 in two river basins – the Nam Theun/Nam Kading in Lao PDR and the Sesan River in Viet Nam and Cambodia. Both rivers are tributaries of the Mekong.

MK3 was implemented by ICEM in partnership with Aalto University, WorldFish Centre, Institute of Technology Cambodia (ITC), National University of Lao PDR (NuOL) and Western highlands Agriculture & Scientific Research Centre (WASI).

Purpose: The principal hypothesis behind this research is that multiple use of the land and water resources surrounding a cascade of dams and reservoirs can be integrated and made compatible with hydropower production. The research shows that the number of different ways of using the water need not be so demanding that hydropower production would be reduced significantly. It makes the case that the different uses of water are essential for a more balanced development of the resources […]

By |September 8th, 2014|1 Comment