HANOI, VIETNAM – 15 July 2013: ICEM researchers have been visiting villages and meeting community members in Dak Lak province Vietnam, to more clearly understand the  impacts of hydropower dams on their lives and livelihoods.

Villagers in these areas close to the Cambodia border are reporting diverse impacts from the decade-old hydropower dam projects on their experiences of flooding and drought. The most interesting aspect for ICEM researchers was how localized the impacts were felt. The villagers’ agricultural usage and the location of the individual villages and farms in relation to the cascading dams all impact significantly on whether they were experiencing adverse affects in terms of water supply management.

Farmers and villagers from Buon Don, Buon Tri, Drek B and Ea Mar village along the Srepok river were interviewed as part of a survey for the Mekong Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF). This component of the program considers the impact of water supply infrastructure (WSI) on floods and droughts in the Mekong Region and the implications for food production.

The findings of the survey are especially important considering the projected impacts of climate change in the region, which is expected to increase the incidence of floods and droughts. Understanding the localized impacts related to the hydropower infrastructure means that the existing water management systems could be productively used manage water resources – both now and in the future.

The Srepok River is a major tributary of the Mekong River. Flowing from the Central Highlands of Vietnam into northeastern Cambodia, the river supports riparian communities who are largely dependent on fishing, lowland rice cultivation, and the collection of non-timber forest products for their livelihoods. Beginning in 2003, Vietnam’s state-owned Electricity of Vietnam began constructing the 280 MW Buon Kuop Dam, the first of a seven dam cascade that ranges from 20 MW to 280 MW on the Srepok River. Communities here have long experience of dealing with the impact of the dams, which they were able to share with the ICEM research team.

A second wave of hydropower facilities are currently being built in Vietnam and the Srepok River is again undergoing major changes. With the development of the Buon Kuop Dam, unusually low water levels were first experienced by downstream communities in 2003 and 2004. With time, these impacts grew more severe as the river’s flow regime significantly changed and water quality deteriorated, leading to the a series of devastating flash floods, river dry-ups, a decline in fish catches, and an increase in water-borne illness and disease.
> Read more about this issue in Paul Wyrwoll’s blog post
> More about the Mekong Challenge Program on Water and Food