US expert urges hydropower development that respects environment

Published: 02/07/2009 05:00



On the sidelines of a workshop on management of the Vu Gia – Tho Bon river basin organized by the Quang Nam provincial government on June 19, Ruth Matthews of the WWF talked about latent risks of hydro-power works.

On the bank of Vu Gia River: If this river is out of water, local farmers will no longer have good crop.

Before you came to Vietnam, you researched environmental issues related to hydro-power works, the construction of dams on rivers in many countries. What do you think about the situation in the world generally?

Matthews: I’ve been in Vietnam for nine months. Before that, I studied and researched about hydro-power works and dams in the US for over ten years. These days, US and other western countries are not building so many hydro-power plants, but instead are relying on other sources of energy. At the same time, the legal system to prevent environmental impacts from the construction of hydropower plants has been well developed. The environment is always the top priority.

The US and other western countries were the first to dam rivers to develop hydro-power plants. They built huge dams like the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River in the US. However, this ended by the 1990’s after the damaging impacts of massive interventions in river systems were evident. However, at the same time, developing hydropower has become a vigorous trend in many other countries. What do you think about that?

Matthews: The US and some developed countries widely developed hydro power over 50 years ago. As I said, since then the legal system on environmental protection has been perfected. It is required to consider and balance the impacts on the environment and the expected economic benefits to decide whether to develop hydropower plants or not. Many countries in the world apply methods that restrict the impacts of hydropower plants on the environment. So, the principal differences, I think, are in the legal systems of countries, what they specifiy about acts that harm the environment.

Can you give us an example?

It is the technique of “environmental impact assessments.” If the development of such projects is not carefully studied, and weaknesses are only discovered after the power plant goes into operation, the costs of correcting those weaknesses can be huge. In some countries, these evaluations are much more comprehensive. The investment cost of a project must take into account the environmental protection costs. Put another way, it means the builders of the dam and power plant must accept responsibility for protecting the environment.

What do you recommend for Vietnam?

You should do ‘strategic’ environmental impact assessments. It’s not good enough only to evaluate the impacts of each hydro-power plant on a section of a river. The entire river basin must be studied, so that planners and officials have a comprehensive view about the cumulative impacts of all the projects on a river, as many as five or seven plants.

If a hydropower project is being planned, it is also important to have a biodiversity assessment, so you know what animals and plants live in the area of the project and can design the project to have the least negative impact on these natural resources.

The public in the Quang Nam-Danang area is very interested in the Dak Mi 4 hydro-power project, where it is planned to divert water into the Thu Bon river, reducing the flow to Vu Gia river. It’s said this will cause fresh water shortages for nearly 1.7 million people. Do you know about this case? What do you think about the diversion of a natural river?

I’ve heard about it but I don’t know the details. But experience from many other countries is that we should not block the stream of one river to divert water to another river because that act can destroy the entire downriver ecological system. Moreover, once water has run away, it will never


All of Central Vietnam is building hydropower.

According to Quang Nam province statistics, 68 hydropower projects of various sizes are planned for construction on rivers in the province. Up to 60 projects will crowd into its area of 10,000 square kilometers. Notably, 11 big power plants will be built on the Vu Gia – Thu Bon river system alone.

In 2007, the Ministry of Industry and Trade decided to separate the Dak Mi 1 project (225 MW) into three smaller projects, namely Dak Mi 1 (58MW) in Kontum province and Dak Mi 2 (90MW) and Dak Mi 3 (45MW) in Quang Nam province. It means that Dak Mi river, running from Kontum to Quang Nam, will have to support four power plants. Another river in the central region, the Boung, also has four plants.

Additional to the 11 big plants, Quang Nam authorities agreed with the Ministry of Industry and Trade to approve 43 other power projects of medium and small sizes. The province is also scrutinizing proposals for 14 other plants.

Other provinces in the central and highlands regions are also attractive for hydropower projects. There are plans in Binh Dinh province (6000 for 27 projects , of which seven have been issued permits.

Beginning in 2010, Dak Nong (6500 sq. km) plans to develop 64 or more hydropower projects. Eighty more hydro projects have been proposed for Kontum (9600 In Thua Thien – Hue city, (5000 sq. km) which has relatively less water power resources, 11 projects are planned.


Provide by Vietnam Travel

US expert urges hydropower development that respects environment - Interviews - In depth |  vietnam travel company

You can see more

enews & updates

Sign up to receive breaking news as well as receive other site updates!

Ads by Adonline