26 March 2013

Recent site visit of Xayabori Dam

Last week I was invited to visit the Xayabori Dam Project in Sayabouri Province of Laos. I joined two van-loads of reporters from Laos and Vietnam to receive a tour of the dam site, relocated village, and meet with the governor of the province to better understand the current economic and social situation in the region.

There were resulting articles from the professional press who visited the site that provide information on what we learned. One is from the Global Times and the other from the local newspaper Vientiane Times, though I couldn't find the online version - but found it republished on someone's blog, so I have posted it below. I did find a brief article about the relocated villages and the ferry boat we used to cross the Mekong, a system that a bridge currently under construction will render unnecessary.

Currently, there are people in Sayabouri Province who live on close to $1 per day. In accordance with the global war on poverty, the Lao Government is seeking to engage in development projects that would generate income, opportunities, and new infrastructure - like the building of new villages for rural communities with access to markets on new roads, with onsight schools and clinics - for the people of Laos.




Xayaburi dam presents no risks to environment, Lao government
Xinhua | 2013-3-19 17:51:42
By Agencies

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The Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited Xinhua and other foreign media to visit the construction site of the controversial Xayaburi dam being built on the Mekong River, which they claim will be overall positive for the environment and people who share the Mekong.

The tour on Friday and Saturday came in conjunction with the release of a report, as well as interviews with senior officials in the department and at the Xayaburi Power Company who are constructing the dam. Construction is being carried out at the site 24 hours a day, and will be able to continue all year long, despite changing river levels.

Construction of the dam started late last year and is now 10 percent complete, but it has been the source of concern for various environmental groups, NGOs, and governments. These groups have argued against the construction of the dam because of a perceived potential for a negative impact on the migratory paths for the Mekong's many fish species and the impacts on sediment flows down the river which provide fertile soil for agriculture along the river.

The Lao government and the Xayaburi Power Company argued that the environmental concerns raised by various group and neighboring countries will be mitigated via several technological innovations.

In the report titled Xayaburi Run-of-River Hydroelectric Power Project, the claim is made that the potential impact on sediment flows will be mitigated by the use of a low barrage and a design and operational pattern allowing sediment flow through the pondage.

The report argues that a fish-pass system will be included in the dam that will permit "passage in up and downstream directions for all breeds of river fish. Its width is large enough to accommodate passage also of big fish. The fish will be attracted by the flows created by the system; they will follow them and swim in upstream direction."

Others have argued that the impact of the dam on the Mekong has not been sufficiently studied, especially given limited knowledge of the way various species of fish may interact with a fish-pass system.

Deputy Managing Director of Xayaburi Power Rewat Suwanakitti told Xinhua on Saturday that the governments of Cambodia and Vietnam now supported the construction of the dam, "...we redesigned the spillway, fish passage system, and that nearly one hundred percent of sediment can pass through the dam. Now both governments (of Cambodia and Vietnam) understand clearly and support our project."

The Xayaburi Power Company is a subsidiary of the Thai company Ch. Karnchang Public Company who are leading contractors on the Xayaburi site.

BIG RIVER, BIG OPPORTUNITIES

In the Mekong, which is the tenth longest waterway with the second highest biodiversity in the world, there are around 229 species that live upstream of the Xayaburi site, 70 of which are migratory. The river passes through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Laos, one of Southeast Asia's least developed nations, is making a major push into the hydropower industry with 23 dams currently in operation generating around 3,000 MW of electricity. A further 33 dams are in the construction or at the planning stage across the country with an expected completion before 2018, and an expected output of around 6,000 MW. Of these proposed dams, a further four are planning on the Mekong.

Chief of the Energy Business Division of the Ministry of Energy and Mines Somphith Keovichith identified the benefits for the country in building the dam in an exclusive interview with Xinhua, "After the dam, it will be more convenient to deliver things by ship as we can take over 500 metric tons of cargo from the north to the south of the country."

Keovichith said the Lao government would get a direct return from the dam of 20 percent of profits via royalties and taxes, as well as $135 million per year on concession for 29 years. In total, it will be almost $4,000 million. After 29 years the site will revert to full ownership by the Lao government.

Suwanakitti told Xinhua that the budget for the project was, "$3, 500 million, 30 percent of which was provided by the developer and 70 percent borrowed from a bank in Thailand." Thai electricity utilities company, EGAT, has agreed to purchase 95 percent of the electricity generated at the dam.

Keovichith said that the local area may also benefit from an increasing number of tourists to the site, as people may be interested in seeing the dam, like those visiting the Three Gorges Dam in China. The construction will also employ over 10,000 people, some of whom will come from areas around the dam.

Keovichith said he expected the construction to be completed by 2019, when a great deal of engineering expertise would have been gained for future projects.

The employees on the dam are primarily Lao, according to Suwanakitti. "When we have no Lao people for a position we order from Thailand. But this project is very big, not just Lao or Thai. We have people from many countries."

As for the people who have been moved from the area as their traditional homes would be flooded after the dam was finished, Keovichith said, they are being provided with better access to resources such as transport, power, education, and healthcare.

News and update :
22 03 2013 : :
Dam builders upgrade roads for relocated villagers

[2013-03-22] Vientiane Times The Xayaboury Hydroelectric Power Project has approved the continuing development of infrastructure to meet the needs of people in the newly built village of Na Tor Yai, in Xayaboury province.
Some 75 families moved to the village to allow for the construction of the Xayaboury dam, the first run-of-river dam to be built on the lower Mekong.
The project developers say they will seal the road that leads to the provincial capital and various other roads in the area and will build a bridge across the Houng River.
The main infrastructure in the new village is already in place, including houses, roads, water, electricity, telephone network and a school. These were built when people began relocating to the village in January last year.
Uncle Thidsatan Soukeo told reporters who visited the area on Wednesday that he is one of 350 people who recently moved 30km from their former home in Huysouy village on the banks of the Mekong River. Their new home is closer to the provincial capital.
“We hope the project developers will improve the dirt roads in the new village and seal them with asphalt, and build a new bridge across the Houng River,” he said.
Na Tor Yai village is about six kilometres from the provincial capital, but the asphalt road extends for only three kilometres. The villagers are hoping the project developers will lay more asphalt to reduce the amount of dust and facilitate transport.
They also want a bridge across the Houng River because it will reduce the distance they have to travel to nearby markets by more than half.
The villagers say they need only these two things, and then won't ask for anything else because they have already been given a lot since they relocated.
Xayaboury district Governor Ms Bounphack Inthapanya said the project developers paid out compensation of 200 to 300 million kip for the houses and land abandoned by the residents of Huysouy village. The dam will have a generating capacity of 1,285MW, with most of the electricity to be sold to Thailand. It is slated for completion in 2019, but the government wants to accelerate the project and is aiming for a completion date sometime in 2018.
The project is already about 10 percent complete after a groundbreaking ceremony took place in November last year.
*Relocated villagers to get similar payouts from Xayaboury dam builders*

Vientiane Times, 243March 2013

Families in 16 villages of Xayaboury and Luang Prabang provinces who live along the Mekong River and must move to make way for the Xayaboury dam are to receive similar compensation payments.
The 667 families will be paid the same amount as the residents of Huayxouy village in Xayaboury province and Pakneun village in Luang Prabang province after they too had to leave their homes to make way for the massive hydropower plant.
This village has moved from the banks of the Mekong to higher ground.
These families received compensation of 200 to 300 million kip from the project developers for the houses and land they had to abandon.
The people of Huayxouy village moved to a newly built village named Na Tor Yai, where the company building the dam provided each family with a two-storey house and a 20 x 30 square metre plot of land. Fishponds were dug and the villagers supplied with pigs, poultry, frogs and fish.
The project developers also built roads and a school and installed water, electricity and telephone lines. They will pay electricity and water bills plus a monthly allowance of 120,000 kip person for a period of one year. If requested, the payments will be extended for another two years.
Xayaboury district Governor Ms Bounphak told Vientiane Times that the residents of Huayxouy and Pakneun villages were moved first because these villages were located on the construction site itself.
The occupants of Pakneun village moved to higher ground in Huayhip village.
The project developers said only Huayxouy village has been relocated to a completely new place, which is closer to the provincial capital. The people of the other villages will move to a higher elevation, but will continue to live along the Mekong River.
In the past, these communities frequently had to make last minute preparations to move their belongings to higher ground when the Mekong rose due to heavy rains upstream.
The people of the 14 villages say they approve of the move to higher ground, as they will no longer suffer from fl ooding.
The project's Lead Engineer, Mr Prat Nantasen, said that in the middle of this year two more villages - Khoknahi and Huaydeua - will be moved to higher ground alongside the Mekong.
By 2014, all of the villages that must be rel ocated will have moved to higher ground. Construction of the dam is scheduled for completion in 2019. The project is already about 10 percent complete following the groundbreaking ceremony last November.