Responding to the need to protect the quality of water throughout the Mekong River Basin, the MRC and its Member Countries developed the Procedures for Water Quality (PWQ). The first transboundary procedure of its kind in the region, the PWQ implements the 1995 Mekong Agreement between MRC Member Countries by establishing a cooperative framework with the objective to maintain good/acceptable water quality to promote the sustainable development of the Mekong River Basin.
Over 60 million people rely on the water and water related resources of the Mekong River Basin. The Mekong's water is directly related to riverine communities' health as it is a vital source of their nutrients. Riverine communities rely on the Mekong Basin for their fisheries, agriculture and navigation. Good/acceptable water quality in the Mekong River Basin is also necessary for the protection of aquatic life. If the Mekong is polluted in upstream areas, this may impact the downstream reaches and therefore becomes a transboundary issue.
The MRC's PWQ protects riverine communities and the Mekong's aquatic life from transboundary water pollution by supporting continual river quality monitoring and emergency response preparedness. In the event that the Mekong River experiences pollution violating agreed standards, the PWQ assures communities that Member Countries will be prepared to take action and if necessary support their neighbours to address the issue at stake.
In general, the Mekong River Basin has good water quality, aside from the most heavily populated areas in the southern most area of the Lower Mekong Basin. Transboundary water pollution is currently low, or non-existent.
The PWQ will be implemented by the MRC and its Member Countries through four Technical Guidelines:
The Technical Guidelines for Protection of Human Health aims to maintain ambient water quality in the Mekong mainstream at a good/acceptable level for domestic purposes and primary human contact. It defines 20 water quality criteria, specific target values for these criteria and information on how to assess the suitability of the river's quality of water.
Similar to the Technical Guidelines for Protection of Human Health, the Technical Guidelines for Protection of Aquatic Life also sets its goal to maintain the ambient water quality of the Mekong mainstream at good/acceptable for the protection of the Mekong's freshwater aquatic life. All components of the aquatic life, flora and fauna in the Mekong River are considered in this technical guideline. The guideline defines 18 water quality criteria, specific target values for these criteria and information on how to assess the water quality suitability.
All four Member Countries have standards for water quality. These standards are checked through water quality monitoring to make sure that the water quality does not violate the standards. For instance oxygen concentration is measured to follow-up on the minimum values of oxygen concentration determined through the oxygen concentration standard. The agreed criteria and target values therefore describe what is regarded as good/acceptable water quality.
The Technical Guidelines for Water Quality Emergency Response and Management ensures timely and effective cooperation among the MRC Member Countries in response to water quality emergency pollution incidents. The guidelines also provide support on how to mitigate impacts of spills and clean-up to minimise the negative effects on the Mekong's water quality and aquatic life.
An emergency response and management will provide all relevant agencies with instructions on how to respond in the event of emergency pollution incidents. Through this cooperation, Member Countries will immediately and appropriately inform their neighbours in case of an emergency incident and cooperate to combat the pollution to limit transboundary impacts.
The Cooperation Framework for Implementation of the Procedures for Water Quality explains all cooperation mechanisms including the roles of the different stakeholders; recommendations on how the PWQ can be implemented; and a roadmap for the implementation and monitoring and evaluation of the implementation.
During the development of the PWQ and its technical Guidelines the following actions have been identified to facilitate implementation of the PWQ: