Lack of data on dam activity mars Mekong governance efforts

Last year, more data was shared about the Mekong than ever before. Yet despite the increased openness enabled by the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) mechanism, the Mekong River Commission (MRC), and various NGOs, the wet season was still marred by low rainfall levels and controversy over retention of water by dams. Now in the midst of another dry season, activists in the Lower Mekong Basin are wondering when China will share data on the retention operations of dams on its length of the river.

After years of requests, hydrological data from gauges all along the Mekong may be said to be transparent. But regular operational data from China’s upstream dams remains unshared, available only at China’s discretion. 

Other than notices of major changes in dam operations, China does not share data from its 11 upstream hydropower dams on the Mekong, which is known as the Lancang in China. In 2021, dry season sandbanks were recorded in Thailand in the wet season; farmers around Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia fretted over the length of the flood pulse; and Vietnam continued to contend with salination and erosion of the Mekong Delta. All of these issues were at least in part attributable to upstream hydropower dams on the Mekong mainstream. 

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Tyler Roney