U.S., Southeast Asian Nations Collaborate on Lower Mekong River
Littleton, Colorado - Recently, professionals from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam spent three weeks in the United States exploring new ways to effectively manage watersheds and consider new approaches for the Lower Mekong River basin.
(Media-Newswire.com) - Littleton, Colorado — Recently, professionals from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam spent three weeks in the United States exploring new ways to effectively manage watersheds and consider new approaches for the Lower Mekong River basin.
The tour, sponsored by the U.S. State Department, included visits to universities, hydroelectric power plants, a wetland, government agencies, an environmentally focused summer camp for children, and a community clean-up event at a neighborhood park. Tour members represented the Cambodian Forestry Administration, the nongovernmental organization Forum on Cambodia, Lao National Mekong Committee, Lao Water Resources and Environment Administration, Save the Mekong Coalition, Mekong-Lanna Natural Resources and Cultural Conservation Network, Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology, Vietnam National University and Vietnam Environment Administration.
The trip highlighted U.S. watershed management practices and also facilitated relationships between the Asian visitors and their U.S. professional counterparts, said Frank Justice, an associate program officer with the Meridian International Center, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that promotes international understanding by exchanging ideas, people and culture. The State Department plans three more tours in 2010 on other topics critical to the Mekong region.
CHALLENGES TO THE MEKONG RIVER
Conflicting needs for the Mekong River have existed for centuries. Five countries share this water source, which is used for drinking, sanitation, transportation, wildlife, the fishing industry and agriculture, especially rice farming. Notably, Thailand and Vietnam are the world’s largest exporters of rice, a crop that requires considerable water and the nutrient-rich silt that is transported by the river annually to replenish the soil.
A relatively new use for the Mekong is hydroelectric power generation. Currently, more than 10 new dams are proposed on the river, and additional dams are being considered on its tributaries, Tim Hamlin, research associate at the U.S. nonprofit Stimson Center, told America.gov. These dams would have both positive and negative consequences. On the positive side, dams will produce hydroelectric power, revenue and lower-cost electricity, Hamlin said, adding the last is especially important because some areas of Cambodia have some of the highest electricity costs in the world. Dams also will help control seasonal flooding and droughts, but traditional farming methods rely on the floods for water and soil nutrients.
On the negative side, the dams will hinder the down-river flow of silt, which is now deposited primarily in the Mekong Delta, Hamlin said. That silt is critical to current rice farming techniques. Dams also hamper fish migration and reproduction. Rice and fish are vital for the area’s food security, Tanya Rogers, State Department desk officer for the Lower Mekong Initiative, told America.gov.
SISTER RIVER PARTNERSHIP
To improve management of transboundary water issues within the Lower Mekong region and to support the Mekong River Commission ( MRC ), a sister river partnership between the MRC and the Mississippi River Commission in the United States was formalized in May.
The Mississippi River Commission, headed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is working to “share best practices and lessons learned” from the United States with its counterparts in Southeast Asia, Rogers said. The members will be exploring areas of common interest, including water resource management, flood forecasting, water quality, hydroelectric power, agriculture and food security.
In another partnership outreach, the State Department hopes to bring government officials from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam to the United States in the near future to:
• Collect information on how the Mississippi River is managed.
• Visit U.S. government agencies that oversee water resource management.
• Demonstrate ways to assess the environmental impact of the proposed Mekong-River dams.
To encourage dialogue and help with resolving competing needs in the Mekong basin, the State Department also is looking to help establish expert groups from the region to consider key issues surrounding the future development of dams, Rogers said. The United States would like to share what it has learned over decades of working on dam projects, she added.
Charlie Demas, director of the Louisiana Water Science Center for the U.S. Geological Survey ( USGS ), told America.gov that the center is looking to exchange information with its counterparts at Vietnam’s Can Tho University about “how their delta is reacting to similar issues that have impacted the Mississippi River.”
Like the Mekong, the Mississippi River has been eroding and compressing in coastal areas, and is facing reduced sediment supply in the river. Both rivers also must manage flooding and salt water intrusion into coastal land.
“We are looking at what can they learn from us, and what can we learn from them,” Demas said. For example, USGS is sharing water quality data with Dr. Ni at the Forecast Mekong Institute at the university to examine apparently increasing salt levels in drinking water sources.
Can Tho University also is working with the USGS National Wetlands Research Center to share geographic information system ( GIS ) data used to develop Forecast Mekong, a software model based on a similar tool for the Mississippi River, to help better assess and manage the Mekong River and its delta.
In August, the State Department and USGS hosted 19 Vietnamese students at the Louisiana Water Science Center for a workshop on water resource issues facing the Mekong and Mississippi rivers, including sediment decline and coastal erosion. In the future, USGS staff will be teaching a course in GIS data management at Can Tho University, working with the MRC on using GIS data, and examining data to prevent land from sinking due to removing too much groundwater.
( This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov )
This story was released on 2010-09-16. Please make sure to visit the official company or organization web site to learn more about the original release date. See our disclaimer for additional information.