MRC steps up monitoring of Mekong flows

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) -- The Mekong River Commission (MRC) is closely monitoring the flow of the Mekong amid growing threats from fluctuating weather conditions. 

 “During this current period of regionally low flow and historically severe drought, the MRC is doing its utmost to predict and inform stakeholders about changes in flow, so that downstream countries and communities can prepare and plan,” Dr Sothea Khem, who is the River Forecasting Specialist with the MRC Secretariat, said this week.

“The timely availability of flow data will help MRC member countries to make prompt fluctuation projections as well as plan to accommodate unexpected changes in the water level in their territories.”

But Dr Khem noted that “our predictions of low flow can only be made based on the data available at any one time plus satellite rainfall forecasts”. He said the MRC had established 22 water level monitoring stations along the main channel of the lower Mekong basin. These stations provide daily water flow data to the MRC Secretariat so that it can make water level projections.

The availability of hydrological data for the upper Mekong (known as the Lancang in China) from the Chinese government will also enable the MRC to provide more accurate projections about changes to water levels in the Mekong basin, he said.

The MRC Secretariat CEO, Dr An Pich Hatda, and the Consul (Director-General level) of China’s Ministry of Water Resources, Dr Yu Xingjun, last month renewed an agreement on hydrological data exchange.

Under this agreement, China will provide the MRC with hydrological data twice a day over five months, from June 1 until October 31 every year.

Based on the MRC’s monitoring, water levels along the Mekong have slowly risen, thanks to the increase in rainfall starting from the last week of July.

The overall water level uptick has centered around most sections in the main channel of the lower Mekong basin, with an average increase of about 1.5 metres since the beginning of August.

Although none of them has reached the historical long-term average (1980-2018), in the sections at Laos’ Luang Prabang and Cambodia’s Stung Treng, Kratie and Kampong Cham, water levels are now close to their average levels.

Above-normal rainfall is forecast from August 14-20. Rain is expected in the middle part of the lower Mekong basin from Luang Prabang to Pakxe down to the floodplain area of the Mekong Delta in Cambodia and Vietnam, according to the satellite rainfall forecast of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Flood Alert System of the United States of America.

“We expect more rainfall with an approximate amount of 150-200 mm over the basin in August and September, which will help to ease the situation and  contribute to the rise of the Mekong and greater soil moisture,” said Dr Khem.