Thai authorities in Isan delay plan to open dam

State officials have postponed a promise to open the gates of a controversial dam in Thailand’s northeast, saying that the area might experience drought.   

According to the Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS), the provincial administration of the northeastern province of Ubon Ratchathani and relevant state agencies such as the Royal Irrigation Department on Thursday announced that the request to open the Pak Mun Dam, a controversial hydroelectric dam on Mun River in the province, will not be followed.  

The announcement was made after a six hour meeting between state officials and 15 representatives of the Assembly of the Poor (AOP), a civil society organisation for marginalised communities, which proposed that the dam should be opened to allow fish to migrate during the breeding season.

At the meeting, Prateep Kiratirekha, the provincial governor, concluded that if the dam is opened there might not be enough water in the dam for agricultural activities in the area.

The state officials stated that once the dam gates are open it will take only about four hours for the water to flow into Mekong River. Therefore, with scarce rain in the region during this time, there might not be enough water to use on about 14.4 sq.km of farmland in the province.

Moreover, the water level in the river would be too low or completely drained in some sections to the point where fish might not be able to migrate at all once the dam is opened, added the authorities.

Udom Saengpong, one of AOP’s key leaders, however, pointed out that many of the fishermen and locals want the dam to be opened. Fish stocks in the river could increase during the breeding season and they could fish.

“The immediate solution for the villagers would be to open the Pak Mun Dam because the villagers have been suffering from this dam for the last 25 years,” said Udom.

Last week, the AOP issued a letter to the provincial governor to request state authorities to open the gates of the Pak Mun Dam in order to allow many fish species on the Mun and Mekong rivers to lay eggs and reproduce.     

The Pak Mun Dam is a hydroelectric dam on the Mun River just above the confluence with the Mekong River in Ubon Ratchathani Province. The dam was built by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand with the support of the World Bank (WB) and was completed in 1994.

The dam has long been opposed by many environmental groups in Thailand and abroad for its environmental impact on local fish species, which many communities along the river depend on.