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.

Overall Progress of the project

The Council Study Phase I has been finalized with the establishment of the interim report, baseline data and modeling tools, development and testing of the BioRA ecological assessment methodology, the definition of the thematic teams’ future scenarios and modelling of future climate change projection impacts etc.

Currently, the Council Study Phase II is being implemented and expected to develop BioRA Delta assessment, model large number of thematic scenarios, synthesize and report assessment results and transfer knowledge to the Member Countries by the end of 2017.

The Matrix below indicates details progress/status of each deliverable under the Council Study.



Status (as of Jan 2017)



Project Reference document and work plan

Concept Note

Done (15 January 2013)


Terms of Reference

Done (21 January 2014)


Inception Report

Done (27 October 2014)


Phase 2 Implementation Plan

Done (14 Oct 2016)



A Thematic Report on the Impacts and Benefits of Irrigation Development in the Lower Mekong River Basin Including Recommendations for Impact Avoidance and Mitigation Measures.


Updated the Interim report V3.

Working Paper on Development Scenarios



Agriculture and Land-use Change

A comprehensive land-use/land cover map for the council study


 Development of V1

Working Paper on Development Scenarios



A Thematic Report on Impacts of Non-irrigated Agriculture Development and General Trends in Major Land-Use Categories in the Lower Mekong River Basin Including Recommendations for Impact Avoidance and Mitigation Measures.


 Updated the Interim report V3.

Domestic and Industrial Water Use

Working Paper on Development Scenarios



A Thematic Report on Impacts and Benefits of Domestic and Industrial Water Use in the Lower Mekong River Basin including Recommendations for Impact Avoidance and Mitigation Measures.


 Updated the Interim report V3.

Flood protection and flood plain infrastructure

Working Paper on Development Scenarios



A Thematic Report on Impacts and Benefits of Flood Protection Structures and Floodplain Infrastructure and Impact of other Developments on Flood Risk Including Recommendations for Impact Avoidance and Mitigation Measures.


 Updated the Interim report V3.


Working Paper on Development Scenarios



A Thematic Report on Impacts and Benefits of Hydropower Development in the Lower Mekong River Basin Including Recommendations for Impact Avoidance and Mitigation Measures.


Updated the Interim report V3.


Working Paper on Development Scenarios



A Thematic Report on the Impacts and Benefits of Navigation Infrastructure Development in the Lower Mekong River Basin Including Recommendations for Impact Avoidance and Mitigation Measures.


 Updated the Interim report V3.

Hydrology, Sediment and Nutrient

A disciplinary technical report on hydrological modelling.

Complete the based line simulation



A disciplinary technical report on sediment transport.

Complete the based line simulation



A disciplinary technical report on Nutrient transport.

Complete the based line simulation


 Modelling technical report











Report on modeling status






ISIS in Upper mekong



Analysis of Measured Sediment and Nutrient Loads in the Mekong Basin






Report_SWATBaseline2007_Sediment and Nutrient






Report_eWater Source Model Baseline



Report WUP-FIN Baseline301016



Report on Modeling result for main development scenario (M1, M2 and M3)


Data and model preparation

Report on modeling results for sub-development scenarios including 1960 and 2000


Data and model preparation

Coastal assessment

A coastal assessment report


 Preparation phase

Climate change

A Climate Change Assessment report


 Scoping of the overall work

Biological Resources

Technical report outlining changes in selected ecological and environmental parameters




Summary of Environmental impact assessment for thematic sectors reports



BioRA Specialist reports

Council Study_BioRA Interim Technical Report 1 _VOLUME 1_Specialists' Report


Interim report v2


Council Study_BioRA Interim Technical Report 1_VOLUME 3_Preliminary Calibration


Interim report V1


Council Study_BioRA Interim Technical Report 2_Guide to the BioRA DSS


Interim report V1


Working paper on social assessment method and approach


Revised V3

A report documenting the social assessment including socio-economic or livelihood analyses


Revised V3


Working paper on Economic assessment method and approach


Revised V3

A report documenting the economic assessment including a resource economics and macro-economic perspectives.


Revised V4

CIA Design & methods & Final Combine Report

A report summarizes main features of the Assessment Design and Methods


Report v3, with significant changes of the overall design based on Core Team consultations in PP. Rewrote and condense text so becomes a guide for Core Team and tool for communication of design and methods more broadly

A final CS integrated report for all thematic and disciplines


Mock-up Final report  with draft structure and possible presentation examples


Stakeholder Participation

MRC as a regional institution is explicitly committed to stakeholder engagement and inputs. The objective of stakeholder engagement is to share information, listen to feedback and inputs and address those comments in a meaningful way.

The collection of the knowledge and perspectives of all interested stakeholders is valuable to the assessment process of this study. Therefore the regional stakeholder forums are significant opportunity to inform the design, methods, and plans for implementation of the council study to all interested stakeholders.  At the same time, it is also to manage expectations and develop a common understanding of the elements of the Council Study (objectives, values, scientific approach).

The Council Study team has conducted several meetings with broader stakeholders in addition to numerous formal and technical consultations involving National Mekong Committees and Line/implementing Agencies. These includes presentations and discussions at the 2014 MRC BDP Regional Stakeholder Forum in Siem Reap and the 2015 Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy on 21-23 October 2015 in Phnom Penh. In addition, the Council Study Coordinator has met with a number of NGOs individually to provide status updates on as per request basis.

Building on these, a specific forum on the Council assessment is planned in February 2017 and another one by the end of year 2017 focusing on the study results. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Why is the Council Study different from past basin-wide assessment of impacts?

Answer: The Council Study is different from past basin-wide assessment of impacts due to the incorporation of the following features:

  • Encompasses all development thematic areas such as hydropower, irrigation, agriculture and land use change, domestic and industrial water use, navigation, and flood protection and an analysis of their individual and cumulative environmental and socio-economic impacts
  • In-depth assessment of impacts of developments from other sectors (not just hydropower)
  • Focus on major and short to medium term developments that are expected to have significant cumulative and transboundary impacts
  • Detailed account of impacts on river ecosystem and the value of ecosystem services to society
  • Identification of risk and opportunities of climate change
  • Development of a comprehensive basin-wide assessment framework
  • Assessment of past and exogenous developments to provide full picture
  • Provide policy recommendations for impact mitigation including cost and benefit sharing

Emphasis is put on both product and process improvements including sustainability of internal capacity building efforts; sustainability and scalability of assessment framework; and promotion of integrated and highly collaborative working environment among Member Countries and MRCS.

Question: How is the Council Study related to the Basin Development Planning (BDP) Process?

Answer: The Council Study builds on information, knowledge and assessments conducted by MRC Basin Development Plan Phase 2 (BDP2) and other commissioned assessments such as the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of Mainstream Dams. In the same way, the results of the assessments of the Council Study including the ensuing enhanced knowledgebase and policy recommendations will inform future update of the Basin Development Strategy including their implementations through the MRC Strategic Plan and National Indicative Plans (see figure below)..

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Question: What stakeholder consultations have been conducted?

Answer: Stakeholder consultations conducted to date have primarily involved the various line government agencies of the four Member Countries through regional technical meetings and national consultations. Development Partners funding the Study have also been consulted. The MRC countries and partners are the “owners” of the product. Because of budget constraints in the past, planned regional stakeholder consultations involving a broader range of stakeholders that include NGOs and CSOs have been postponed. At the national level, Member Countries at their own discretions have opened their national consultations to a wider group of stakeholders. The Council Study was presented at the MRC BDP Regional stakeholder forum in 2014. Furthermore, during the 2015 Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy on 21-23 October 2015 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the Council Study was presented (see Poster 1 and Poster 2 presented). In addition, the Council Study Coordinator participated in a panel discussion for the Mekong Delta Study. These sessions provided the Council Study Team to share the progress of the Council Study and for the audience to ask questions and share feedback. In addition, the Council Study Coordinator has met with a number of NGOs individually to provide status updates on as per request basis.  

Question: Why the Council Study is taking too long to complete?

Answer: The Council Study was conceived in December 2011 at the highest level of the governments of the four Member Countries with the expectation that it will be completed by March 2016 just after 2011-2015 five-year strategic cycle. However, the scoping and planning phase of the Council Study took almost three years when one year is normally anticipated. The Inception Report which became the basis for the implementation phase of the Council Study was approved by the Member Countries in October 2014. This substantial delay in the planning phase put an undue pressure to the implementation team to complete the Council Study by the original completion date of March 2016. Moreover, the compressed implementation schedule is not compatible with the consultative, participatory, and transparent process that the Council Study is required to follow. This process while it takes more time ensures that at the conclusion of the Council Study, the four Member Countries will have already agreed with the findings of the Council Study. Therefore, early in the implementation phase, a proposal to extend the schedule of the Council Study as a corrective action (and which was supported by the Development Partners) has been presented to the Member Countries for consideration. More recently, this proposed extension is described in detail in the proposed implementation plan for Council Study Phase 2 (after March 2016) and is now scheduled for completion by the end of 2017.  

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