Alarming water level changes due to water release from upstream dams


Since the beginning of April, unusual water levels in the Mekong River led to a rise of up to two meters – affecting the downstream region and the Mekong Delta

The Mekong Dam Monitoring (MDM) reported that in the first week of March, hydroelectric dams discharged over one billion cubic metres to the downstream region. The situation worsened the following week when 16 out of 45 dams simultaneously released water, of which two billion cubic metres came from the Nuozhadu and Xiaowan Dams in China. This has increased the water levels at several points along Mekong River downstream by two metres, compared to the average natural flow. 

On April 20, MDM issued the ninth warning on the abnormal changes in the Mekong’s water levels. This has been the highest number of warnings announced in a month since the MDM started tracking the hydroelectric dams’ activity in December 2020. The MDM is expecting abnormal changes to happen more frequently in future.

While releasing water in the dry season can help to reduce drought and salinity for the coastal area of the Mekong Delta, there are long-term effects and intially less visible damages. Missing flood seasons and extreme changes in the flow regime are disturbing the entire Mekong Delta system – affecting agricultural production and fisheries, as well as the Delta’s natural ecosystem.

Lê Thanh Tùng, deputy head of the Plant Cultivation Department (Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment) regards the fluctuating water levels this year as very severe. His department closely monitors the water sources to promptly offer advice to farmers.

Professor Võ Tòng Xuân of Cần Thơ University states that apart from the activity of hydroelectric dams in China and Laos and projects that transfer water to the northeast of Thailand, the Mekong Delta in Việt Nam is also suffering of climate change and sea-level rise. “We have to be realistic about that to proactively adapt to the new situation,” He suggests to reorganise the cooperative model and connect with businesses to ensure outputs.

Source and further Information: „Mekong River’s water level in red alert due to hydroelectric dams“ under and „Dồn dập cảnh báo đỏ về mực nước sông Mê Kông“, May 11th, 2022