Vietnam has agreed in principle to build two multi-million-dollar hydropower dams on the Se San river in Ratanakkiri province, Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem said July 19.
Suy Sem said Vietnamese authorities have agreed to help fund a 420 megawatt dam on the confluence of the Sre Pok and Se San river and another 90 megawatt dam on an upstream tributary of the Se San once a feasibility study has been carried out.
The cost of the dams is estimated at more than $1 million per megawatt, Suy Sem said, meaning that they would cost a combined total at least $510 million.
“Cambodia needs hydropower dams because we need electricity,” Suy Sem added.
Trinh Ba Cam, Vietnamese Embassy spokesman, said July 19 that both sides had agreed in principle to the possibility of constructing dams. “I have no further details than this,” he said.
This week, an environmental impact assessment prepared by the Norwegian Institute for Water Research and the Nordic hydro consultants SWECO Groner, said that toxic algae in the $1 billion Vietnamese Yali Dam’s reservoir on the Se San, has been linked to illnesses and deaths of livestock in downstream Cambodia.
“The analysis confirmed that there are strains of toxin-producing green algae present in [Yali] Reservoir,” which produce “exactly the same symptoms” that were reported by downstream Cambodians including headaches, dizziness and respiratory problems, the report states.
An estimated 28,000 people in northeastern Cambodia rely directly on the Se San for their drinking water, as well as for bathing, fishing and watering livestock, according to the report.
Asked about the allegations of toxic algae and of the water quality in the Se San, Trinh Ba Cam said: “In the meeting between the Cambodians and Vietnamese, both sides raised the issue of water quality, but there is no problem. Both sides agreed to address all the problems caused to the environment.”
Pich Dun, secretary-general of the National Mekong Committee, said that while the new dams in Ratanakkiri would be good for electricity production, “we still need to study the impact.”
He said the impact on the environment would be lessened as the proposed dams used turbines to produce energy rather than reservoirs, which release massive amounts of water into the river.
SRP leader Sam Rainsy said to build a new dam on the Se San in Ratanakkiri would be irresponsible. “When there is no solution to existing problems, we must not create new ones,” he said.
Touch Seang Tana, chairman of the government’s Dolphin Preservation Conservation Group, said that the Se San River was already damaged by dams on the Vietnamese side of the border and the best locals can hope for is to receive electricity from dams on the Cambodian side.
“The river is already destroyed,” he said. “The Cambodian people are entitled to get some of the benefits that dams can provide.”