Don Sahong hydropower project
The Don Sahong hydropower project resulted in similar upheavals to Xayaburi. The dam is situated on the Hou Sahong channel, which is considered a key route for fish migration in this part of the Mekong mainstream in Laos, just before the border with Cambodia. This second MRC Prior Consultation was conducted between July 2014 and January 2015; the proceedings for Don Sahong have taken longer though than those for Xayaburi.25
The Don Sahong hydropower project was first submitted to the MRCS in September 2013 as a “Notification" only. The notified countries, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, asked for a resubmission for Prior Consultation though, which led to a pre-assessment by the MRCS for further consideration by the countries, JC, and Council of
Ministers. At the council meeting in June 2014, Laos accepted the request and informed the MRC that it would submit the project as a Prior Consultation.26
Despite all efforts, at the end of the consultation, the MRC JC and council could again not agree on how to move forward with the proposed dam. In consequence, the governments were asked to step in using their diplomatic channels. Despite the experience from Xaya-buri, no criteria were agreed for a justified extension, which made the decision-making process difficult, even though the MRCS received support from the three notified countries to prolong the Prior Consultation to consider and assess additional documents submitted by Laos.
Overall, the MRCS’ strength has been to provide sound technical expertise and recommendations, while some institutional aspects have still not been fully addressed. There was more timely provision of information to the public but communication was still largely about “informing.” Due to no clear ending of the Prior Consultation, the post-Consultation has still not been formalized. However, the MRCS has managed to facilitate an agreed joint project between Cambodia and Laos on the Khone Falls area. This project includes a Joint Environment Monitoring of the Don Sahong project under MRC.
Regarding institutional aspects, a MRCS Task Group worked on the Technical Review with the support of independent international experts, as was the case for the first Prior Consultation. During the Prior Consultation, the JC working group met three times. A JC meeting and a council meeting discussed the results of the assessment and further proceedings, but without a clear ending. Considering the minimal disturbances to the hydrology and sediment transport by the dam, Laos viewed the risks related to the project as low. Hence, Laos wished to close the Prior Consultation.
The MRC member countries conducted national consultations. In addition, the MRCS organized one regional public consultation in Pakse, in southern Laos, and welcomed the submission of stakeholder views on its website. These mostly concerned fisheries and livelihood issues. Some NGOs also raised questions about whether the 260 MW production of the small-scale Don Sahong Dam is worth the related potential negative environmental and social impacts.
With the objective of improving the implementation of the PNPCA and other MRC procedures, the MRCS established a Joint Platform in 2013. Various meetings were held but the 2017 workshop on lessons learned for PNPCA proved particularly useful. During the Don Sahong Consultation, the Basin Development Strategy 2011-2015, one of MRC’s key strategic documents, was also available.
Regarding technical aspects, the PDG continued serving as the guiding document for the project evaluation. During the post-Consultation process, other MRC guidelines have emerged, which play a vital role, including the Guidelines for Joint Environment Monitoring of Mekong Mainstream Hydropower Projects.
The MRCS Technical Review on the Don Sahong questioned the plan to use the Hou Xang Pheuak and Hou Sadam channels as alternative fish routes to the Hou Sahong channel. Potential negative impacts on the Irrawaddy dolphin population, a now-iconic species of the Mekong, were raised too. Potential adverse transboundary impacts related to water quality, sediment, and water flows to Cambodia and the delta were less significant.
With the pilot test of the Joint Environment Monitoring as part of the MRC joint project between Cambodia and Laos, monitoring in the areas of hydrology and hydraulics, sediment, water quality, aquatic ecology, and fisheries is planned. In terms of fisheries, the pilot test foresees monitoring of the three channels, which play a key role in the project design to have reliable data and information on fish species, their migration patterns, catches, and values.27