The Study on Sustainable Management and Development of the Mekong River including Impacts of Mainstream Hydropower Projects

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What is the Council Study?

The MRC Member Countries’ Prime Ministers agreed at the 3rd Mekong-Japan Summit in Bali, Indonesia, in November 2011, to conduct a study on sustainable management and development of the Mekong River including impacts by mainstream hydropower projects. On 8 December 2011 the MRC Council, composed of representative ministers from MRC member countries, agreed to implement the study, thus the name ‘Council Study’.

The Council Study analysis of development in the Mekong Basins includes hydropower, irrigation, agriculture and land use, transportation, domestic and industrial water use, flood protection and includes climate change. The Council Study team then assesses the impact of these developments on environment, peoples’ wellbeing and economy. Council Study is thus an integrated, cross-sectoral, comprehensive and state-of-the-art study supporting sustainable development in the Mekong Basin focusing on the MRC Member Countries – Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The overall objective of the Council Study is to further enhance the ability of the MRC to advise Member Countries on the positive and negative impacts of water resources development of the Basin. The Council Study specific objectives are threefold:

i) Further develop/establish a reliable scientific evidence base on the environment, social and economic consequences (positive and negative) of development in the Mekong Basin.

ii) Results of the study are integrated into the Mekong River Commission (MRC) knowledge base and enhance the Basin Development Planning (BDP) process.

iii) Promote capacity building and ensure technology transfer to Member Countries.

The major knowledge gaps on the environmental, social, and economic impacts of major and near and medium term water and related resources uses in the Mekong River Basin will be addressed and the resulting new knowledge documented in a series of impact assessment reports. In addition, recommendations on how to address the impacts, both in terms of generating new opportunities as well as prevention, mitigation or compensation options will be developed.

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Why the Council Study?

In the long run all stakeholders – civil society, private sector and the governments – benefit from sustainable development. It is important to manage development in a way that brings substantial benefits for all of the Mekong countries while avoiding and mitigating negative impacts on people and environment. Council Study provides necessary information basis for development management and facilitates political dialogue between the Mekong Countries including also China and Myanmar.

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How is the Council Study Implemented?

Council Study was started in preparation phase from the beginning of 2012- Dec 2014 and it started a full implementation of phase 1 in beginning of year 2015 and this study expected to be finalized by the end of year 2017.

The Council Study is implemented by six Thematic Teams, one Cumulative Assessment Team, and five Discipline Teams. The Thematic Teams (Irrigation, Agriculture/Land Use, Hydropower, Flood Protection and Floodplain Management, Domestic and Industrial Water Use, and Navigation) formulates the water-resource development scenarios. The Discipline Teams (Hydrology, Coastal, Productivity, Biology/BioRA, Socio-Economics, Macro-Economics and Climate Change) assess the baseline status of the Mekong Basin and scenario impacts.

The council study is implementing and lead by a core technical group which consist of international and regional experts managed by one riparian regional coordinator and overseen by senior management of the MRC Secretariat. The overall technical work of the council study is managed by the Regional Technical Working Group which consist of the senior technical and management level from the member countries, including NMCs and national Line/implementing agencies as well as representative of the development partners. 

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Since its inception, the Council Study received technical support from MRCS programmes and specific financial support from various development partners including Australia, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, and United States. From 2016 till now, this study has been supported by MRC Member Countries and Development Partners through basket and earmarked funding.

Technical and Sector Assessment

The Council Study is built around 11 teams, 5 of which are technical “discipline” teams and 6 are sector “thematic” teams 

The Discipline Teams are:
  1. Bio-geo-physical modelling including water resources, flooding, water quality and productivity (fish, agriculture, aquaculture)
  2. Bio-Resources Assessment (BioRA) studying ecological impacts
  3. Coastal Assessment
  4. Social and Economic Assessment
  5. Climate Change.

Modelling is at the core of the impact assessment: the Mekong Basin is a complex system and it is not possible to analyse and quantify development impacts without computer modelling. The Council Study utilizes state-of-the-art models developed and verified for the Mekong over 15 years. The core tool is MRC DSF (Decision Support Framework) that simulates basin-wide hydrological, flow and water quality processes as well as human interventions to them. The DSF has been updated with the Australian eWater SOURCE for water sediment and water quality modelling. DSF is coupled with the WUP-FIN (Water Utilisation Programme, Finland Component) modelling tools for integrated impact assessment focusing on The Great Lake (Tonle Sap), Cambodian floodplains, Vietnam Delta and the Mekong estuaries and coast.

The bio-assessment studies Mekong ecology and development impacts on it. The study topics include habitats, bio-diversity and ecosystem services (e.g. fisheries). The BioRA methodology relies on modelling results, expert knowledge and coding the knowledge into ecological systems analysis tool (Downstream Response to Imposed Flow Transformations, or DRIFT).

The coastal assessment reviews earlier studies and pilots 3D nested large scale modelling covering whole South Sea and focusing on the Mekong coast. The main study subject is changing Mekong sediment regime and its impact on coastal erosion. In addition water quality and fisheries productivity are included in the study.

Evaluation of social and economic consequences of water resources development are of key importance for decision makers and other stakeholders. The assessment is based on the MRC Socio-Economic Database, including Social Impact Monitoring and Vulnerability Assessment (SIMVA), and other household survey data as well as national and provincial datasets. Other Council Study discipline and thematic teams provide necessary development scenario impact data to the social and economic assessment. Social assessment focuses on water security, food security, income security, health security, employment and gender. Economic assessment utilises social assessment and focuses on development costs and benefits on resources and sectors (e.g. hydropower, agriculture, ecosystem services) as well as national economies. Transboundary analysis is of obvious importance as costs and benefits may not be evenly distributed between the Mekong countries.

Climate change impacts are studied through the modelling component. Climate change exacerbates (increases) or mitigates (reduces) some of the impacts caused by changes in water use. The Council Study will identify the risks and opportunities that climate change provides in the context of basin development. The climate change discipline relies largely on the Climate Change and Adaptation Initiative (CCAI) results of MRC.

Thematic scope of the Council Study covers the main water resources management sectors and sub-sectors that contribute to development in the basin:

  1. Irrigation including water use, return flows, water quality, and proposed diversions
  2. Agriculture and Land use including watershed management, deforestation, livestock and aquaculture, and fisheries
  3. Domestic and Industrial use including mining, sediment extraction, waste water disposal, urban development, and water quality
  4. Flood protection structures and floodplain infrastructure including roads
  5. Hydropower including potential of alternative energy options
  6. Navigation including navigation, infrastructure to aid navigation.

The thematic teams have conducted extensive national data collection programme for the baseline and development scenarios. In addition the thematic teams rely on the discipline team data.

The overall unified assessment framework of the Council Study is illustrated in the figure below. The framework requires closely coordinating the activities of the various Thematic and Discipline Teams and successfully coordinating the technical inputs and integrating their outputs and deliverables.

 

Cumulative Impact Assessment

The final component of the Council Study is integration and synthesis.  This activity might be described in full as the cumulative, multi-sector, integrated assessment.  It builds on the results and insights of the disciplinary and thematic sector assessments.

Three composite, integrated, indicators are proposed for the cumulative assessment.  The first, resource sustainability, is intended to capture the idea of decoupling development from the environment, that is, obtaining large increases in economic and social benefits without incurring large negative impacts on the environment. The second, cross-sectoral synergies, is intended to measure the extent of synergies or trade-offs among sectors. The third, transboundary balance, is intended to measure the extent to which impacts and benefits are equitably distributed among countries.  It is anticipated that all three indicators will be derived from directly from strategic or more basic assessment indicators used in the disciplinary-based assessments. Several alternative formulations of the composite indicators will be tested and that with reasonable behaviour and easy to communicate will be used.

The Council Study detail design architecture for the Disciplinary & thematic sector Scenario Impact Assessment together with Stakeholder Inputs feed into Cumulative Impact Assessment:

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Geographical Scope

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The whole Mekong River Basin needs be considered for instance for hydrology, hydropower development and climate change. However, with respect to impacts (positive and negative) focus is on the following four areas:

  1. A corridor on both sides of the mainstream from Chinese border to Kratie (Cambodia)
  2. The Cambodia Floodplains including the Tonle Sap River and Great Lake
  3. The Mekong Delta in Cambodia and Viet Nam
  4. The coastal areas directly influenced by the Mekong River.

Thus whilst developments in the whole Mekong Basin are taken into account, the impacts are studied in the main Mekong Corridor including the coastal area.

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The Council Study has conducted a major data collection exercise with the Member Countries. This together with previous Mekong studies, most notably the recent Delta Study, and substantial MRC data holdings form basis of the Council Study.

Reports

The Council Study Phase I and II have been finalized with the development of BioRA Delta assessment, thematic reports, discipline reports, impact assessment reports, and policy recommendations to enhance basin planning that brings sustainable benefits to all the Mekong countries. The reports are available here.

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