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Conservation Groups Criticize Xayaburi Dam Redesign

washington, dc, united states

Environmental conservation groups, including WWF and International Rivers, have come out in the last week with criticism over a new Laotian government report that claims a redesigned Xayaburi Dam will address all the environmental problems associated with its construction.

Laos Vice Minister of Energy and Mines Viraponh Viravong said the redesign would allow for steady sediment flow downriver. Radio Free Asia quoted him as saying, “First, we hired…[Finnish company] Poyry to do the impact study, but people were not satisfied with that. And now we have hired a French company. This study…confirms that if the Laos government wants to let the dam be redesigned, there will be no impact on the environment.”

Compagnie Nationale du Rhone was chosen to review the 2011 study by Poyry Energy AG.

However, conservation groups say the redesign does not take into account fish movements along the river, which supplies millions of Lower Mekong residents with a much-needed food staple.

“WWF’s understanding is that the scope of the CNR review is limited to hydrology, sediment and navigation impact. Questions about fish and fisheries raised in response to the Poyry report have not yet been addressed,” The Phnom Penh Post quoted Marc Goichot, sustainable hydropower manager for WWF-Greater Mekong, as saying.

International Rivers Southeast Asia program director Ame Trandem referred to the new report as “meaningless,” saying, “While Poyry sidestepped science on the dam’s fishery impacts, the new CNR review deliberately omits the dam’s fishery impacts.”

“Until the trans-boundary impacts of the project are assessed, Laos has no basis for claiming this dam is sustainable,” she added.

The controversial dam has faced widespread criticism since Laos began construction. In April, Thai company Ch Karnchang announced it had signed a $1.7 billion USD contract with Xayaburi Power Co for construction of the 1,290-megawatt dam.

Protests from neighboring countries and environmental groups have delayed works several times, with the most recent delay occurring after the contract announcement.

Sithong Chitgnothin, director of the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs' press department, was quoted on May 11 as saying: "No construction is going on; it's discontinued, postponed.”

He said Laos would honor the agreement it made with the other Mekong River Commission members.

"The agreement of the four Mekong River Commission members still stands, and the Lao government will always abide by it," he said.

However, there have been reports from environmental groups that while they may not be building the actual dam, the Laotian government is carrying out other preparations such as road construction.