China’s emergency water supply increased Mekong’s water level, says an MRC-China joint study


Vientiane, Lao PDR, 14th Nov 2016

Vientiane, Lao PDR, 14 November 2016 – The emergency water release from China’s cascade dams during the last dry season increased the Mekong River’s water level and helped alleviate the severe drought the Mekong Basin suffered this year, according to a newly published study by the Mekong River Commission and China.

The Joint Observation and Evaluation of the Emergency Water Supplement from China to the Mekong River, which was posted this week on the MRC’s website, is a joint study by the MRC and China’s Ministry of Water Resources. It aimed to assess the impact of the emergency water release from the Jinghong Reservoir in China’s southwest province of Yunnan.

Earlier this year from mid-March to late-May when the Mekong Basin were suffering from severe meteorological and agricultural drought due to El Nino, China supplemented water from the cascade dams, discharging an average daily discharge of at least 1,200  m3/second.

In the joint assessment, the researchers exchanged and shared data of 22 hydrological stations for water level and discharge along the Mekong mainstream, including one station in China. They analysed the cause of the drought in the Lancang-Mekong basin, the impact of Lancang cascade reservoirs operation on dry season flows, hydrological influence of the emergency water supplement on the Mekong mainstream, and variation of Mekong’s water level during the emergency period, among other aspects.

The study found that the supplemental water release was effective, increasing water level and discharge at most stations along the Mekong mainstream and maintaining it above the long term average most of the time and even higher than the long term maximum level in March and April. Equally, the supplementary water also contributed to alleviate salinity intrusion in the Mekong Delta, decreasing the maximum salinity level in the delta area by varying degrees.

“Although the study does not cover a complete picture of the impact due to limited data and time constraints, it shows the positive impact of China’s cooperation on the drought management in the region,” said MRC Secretariat’s CEO Pham Tuan Phan. He further commended that China took this action when itself was suffering the drought impact on household water supply and agricultural production. “The MRC appreciates China’s friendly cooperation, and we would like to continue our cooperation further in the future.”

The MRC and China has been exchanging hydrological data during the annual flood season since 2002. Together with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the two sides recently agreed to conduct another study on hydrological impacts of the Lancang hydropower cascade on downstream extreme events such as floods and droughts in the dry season.

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The MRC is the intergovernmental body responsible for cooperation in the sustainable management of the Mekong Basin. It was established by a 1995 agreement between Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam. It serves as a regional platform for water diplomacy as well as a knowledge hub of water resources management for the sustainable development of the region. It is not a supra-national or regulatory body. The commission looks across all sectors including sustaining fisheries, identifying opportunities for agriculture, maintaining the freedom of navigation, enhancing flood management and preserving important ecosystems. .

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