Wet-season dam operations hit Mekong ecology and communities

In early July 2021, Chinese dams began restricting the flow of the Upper Mekong. Researchers and activists say the consequences downstream are unknown and potentially severe.

As China celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party on 1 July, the Jinghong dam in Yunnan Province began restricting the flow of water on the Upper Mekong. Levels downstream dropped 50 centimetres in just 10 hours. By 3 July, the low levels hit the Golden Triangle at the conjunction of the Thailand, Myanmar and Laos borders. 

Hydropower dams meet higher demands for energy during the day. At night, the turbines are turned off and the release of water is restricted, resulting in hydropeaking – the rapid raising and lowering of a river’s water levels. While more transboundary data is being shared than ever before on the Mekong’s levels, operational data from China remains a source of contention.

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Tyler Roney, The Third Pole