BANGKOK (AP) — The Mekong River has acquired a blue-green color that tourists can love, but it rings alarm bells. The waters of the river are generally yellowish, with a faint brown hue due to the sediments they drag. Lately, however, they have clarified, taking on a blue-green color that reflects the sky. The level of the waters, on the other hand, is unusually low and exposes sandbanks that allow tourists to stand in the middle of the river.
Low water levels pose obvious problems for fishermen and farmers, but experts say a reduction in sediments also leads to the possibility of increased erosion of riverbanks and beds. The connoisseurs and the people of the area hold a large Hydroelectric Dam in Laos that started operating in October, although the few rains may also have affected it. About 70 million people depend on the Mekong for water, food, trade, irrigation and transportation. And there are those who say that large-scale development projects such as the Xayaburi dam dangerously alter the ecology of the area. The dam prevents much of the sediment from advancing downstream, which has cleared the color of the waters, according to Pravit Kanthaduang, head of the Bueng Khong Long fishing office, a district of Bueng Khan province. The less senduentos, the less nutrients for plantings and river fish, which compromises the ecological balance, according to the official. A decrease in sediments, on the other hand, causes water to move more strongly, a phenomenon known as «hungry waters,» said Chainarong Setthachau, of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Mahasarakham University in northeastern Thailand , who studied the changes in the ecology of the Mekong over the past two decades.» The current carries less sediment, which releases energy on the banks of the river. ‘Hungry waters’ can cause more erosion on the banks, uproot trees and damage structures in the river,» Chainarong said.The dam’s builders deny that the dam is responsible for having the waters lowered, something some attribute to the generators that started operating in March. In October, Xayaburi Power said it planned to invest $640 million to mitigate the dam’s negative impact on the environment, including the construction of canals for sediments and water and facilities to allow fish pass. The total cost of the plant will be $135 million. Daeng Pongpim, a peasant whose family she fished in the village of Ta Mui, ubon Ratchathani province, lives 800 kilometers (500 miles) downstream of the Xayaburi dam, but says she still attributes to the dam the changes she sees in the river.» I’m 67 years old and I’ve never seen anything like this. What worries me most is the low level of the waters. Now we’re in winter and the waters shouldn’t be so low. I don’t want to think about what the dry season is going to be, March and April,» he said. Chaiwat Parakun, who lives 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the dam, also downstream, said he abandoned his fishing gear several years ago because there were fewer and fewer fish. Now he has a business for tourists.» The Mekong has gradually lost its abundance. People who depend on the river, like us, have been noticing it for several years,» he said. «But there was never anything like the impact of (the dam of) Xayaburi. We don’t know how we can live with this degraded environment.»