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Mayhem on the Mekong

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Science  12 Aug 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6044, pp. 814-818
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6044.814

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One million people depend on the seasonal filling and emptying of Cambodia's Tonlé Sap Lake. But newly built dams on the upper Mekong and its tributaries are expected to modulate the river's flow. A large area of permanent inundation will swallow thousands of hectares of floodplain, disrupting the ecosystem and possibly devastating the fishery. Laotian leaders are preparing to build the first dam on the lower Mekong mainstream: the $3.8 billion Xayaburi Hydroelectric Power Project, slated for completion as early as 2019. But the plan is raising tensions. The Mekong River Commission (MRC), which includes Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, requires prior consultation on any major project that might affect sustainable development on the Lower Mekong Basin. Xayaburi dam is the first major proposal to trigger such a review. And the other three MRC members are not satisfied with the information they've received so far from Laos.