The Mekong Dam Monitor’s (MDM) near-real time tracking of dam operations and river flow provides unique insight into the changes that dams have caused to the Mekong River’s natural flow. This article summarizes three new findings from the first year of MDM activity using data produced by the MDM as well as the Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) historical database. Data shows that dams have exacerbated wet season droughts and in some places have inexorably altered the natural flow patterns of Southeast Asia’s most productive river. The MDM has also proven a useful early warning tool for communities to mitigate the immediate impacts of day to day upstream dam operations.
Dam operations exacerbate wet season droughts
A severe lack of rainfall between 2019-2021 was the core driver of drought and low river flows, but dam restrictions during this period significantly impacted wet season flow and exacerbated drought conditions throughout the basin. More studies and additional years of data will help determine whether low flow from 2019 to 2021 represent a “new normal” or natural variability in weather patterns. In any event, an international water sharing agreement, which guarantees a minimum level of flow from upstream dams during period of drought would mitigate future crises.