Researchers seek alternatives to Mekong River hydropower dam

Cornell Chronicle –

The Mekong River, flowing from the Tibetan Plateau through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to the South China Sea, is a hotbed of ecological diversity. The roughly 60 million people who live in the region, many in poverty, depend on the river and its tributaries for food and income. But a surge in hydropower projects is threatening to plunge the Mekong River basin into catastrophic ecological collapse, hampering the flow of fish, nutrients and sediment, unless a viable alternative is found.

Enter Thomas Wild, Ph.D. ’14, who as an Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future Postdoctoral Fellow in Sustainability teamed up with Patrick Reed, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and the nonprofit, nongovernmental Natural Heritage Institute (NHI). Together, they worked with the Cambodian government to explore alternative options for the largest, most potentially devastating dam currently planned along the Mekong, in Sambor.

“The traditional hydropower planning paradigm is for developers to look for and select dam sites that are optimized for hydropower, and then figure out how to mitigate fishery impacts later,” Wild said. “We’ve turned that on its head by focusing on ecosystem concerns from the outset, beginning with site selection.”

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