The Stung Tatay Hydropower dam in Koh Kong province, Thmar Baing district, will flood around 2,800 hectares of uninhabited, nearly pristine forest, which is refuge to dozens of endangered and vulnerable species, creating a huge challenge for developers to mitigate the environmental impacts in the area, according to an impact assessment by conservation NGO Wildlife Alliance.
“The impact will be significant. his is an area that is not developed at all,” Hunter Weiler, technical advisor for the Forestry Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and co-author of the report said Thursday. “When the plan is implemented the biggest mitigation measure is to keep the surrounding forest intact,” Mr Weiler said.
In the assessment Wildlife Alliance appeals to Chinese National Heavy Machinery Cooperation, which will be building the 246 Megawatt dam, to minimize the impact of access roads and construction activities and the presence of between 3,000 to 4,000 workers who will be living on-site during the five-year long construction.
Wildlife Alliance requests the company to protect the surrounding forest, cooperate closely with conservations organizations, and operate the dam in such a way that the existing flow regime of the Tatay River will be maintained and not dry up in the dry season.
Regardless of mitigation, the dam will cause changes in water flow that will affect the ecosystem downstream, while the destruction of the forest and riverine areas by the reservoir will significantly affect species in the area such as the endangered Asian Elephant and the Asiatic Black Bear and destroy the habitat of critically endangered species such as the Siamese Crocodile and the endangered Asian Arowana or Dragonfish, vanquishing one of only ten remaining known habitat areas of the fish, Wildlife Alliance said.
“We expect to submit the EIA to the Ministry of Environment at the end of the year,” Taing Sophanara from Key Consultants Cambodia, which prepares the environmental impact assessment for the Chinese company, said, adding Wildlife’s report would be included in the EIA. If approved, the company could start construction after one month of this decision.
“Cambodia needs power to develop to create jobs and reduce poverty,” Chheang Dany, program manager for the project for Wildlife Protection Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, said. “Every development has an impact. We need to find an equilibrium between developers and conservationists,” he added.
The $553 million dam was approved by the government in January and is one of five dams planned in the Cardamoms—all of which would be built in the same timeframe—to address the country’s demand for cheap power for development.
Mr Weiler said the cumulative impact of the five dams needs to be researched, as so far only the impacts of each individual dam is being assessed, adding that for example the combined evaporation rate of five reservoirs could change the local climate. The impact of the dams on the abundant fish population in the Koh Kong estuary downstream is also not being researched, he said.
“There is no international comparison of building five dams in one ecosystem,” said Mr Dany. “We would suggest that a cumulative impact study is carried out,” he said, adding that a government committee should be set up to coordinate this task.
Danh Serey, deputy director of the Ministry of Environment’s EIA Department, and Ith Praing, secretary of state for the Ministry of Industry, declined to comment Thursday.
(Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)