China’s Mekong River dams are generating renewable energy, but are costing locals their livelihoods

Early in January, locals in the northern Thai village of Chiang Khong woke to find the Mekong River had dropped a metre overnight.

The water level fell so rapidly that damp mud was still visible days later when the ABC visited the area and some boats were left stranded on the riverbank.

“There were more than 10 boats stuck together because the water went down too fast,” Chiang Khong boat driver Chaidin Chiablaem said.

Normally at this time of year, the Mekong slowly recedes until the tail end of the dry season hits in earnest around April or May.

But locals and environmental groups say China’s Jinghong Dam, which generates hydropower 300 kilometres upstream, is causing dramatic fluctuations in river levels and changing the natural cycle of the river.

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Amy Bainbridge and Supattra Vimonsuk