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Mekong Records Highest Water Level In Several Years

Source: Vientiane Times

The Mekong River has recorded higher water levels this year after four straight years of low flow and drought, which has caused hardship for fishing and farming families along Southeast Asia’s largest river.

Over the first four months of 2022, the river level was recorded at the highest in several years as a result of increased rainfall and more water released from upstream dams, according to monitoring data from the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

These two factors combined to unleash greater flows of sediment and nutrients, which should boost fish stocks, improve agriculture, and benefit some 70 million people in riverine communities.

However, this positive development may also be fleeting as July could bring more drought to parts of the Lower Mekong River Basin, according to the MRC.

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While soil moisture now shows significant improvement over 2020 and 2021, by July drought conditions could strike northern and southern Laos, western Cambodia, and the central highlands of Vietnam.

“While this gives us hope that the Mekong is recovering and replenishing,” said the Director of the MRC Technical Support Division, Dr Winai Wangpimool, “it doesn’t eliminate the risk of moderate drought.”

According to MRC figures, water levels across the Basin remain well below the 60-year average from 1961 to 2021, and beneath the most recent decade of healthy flow from 2008 to 2017.

Climate change, drought and water infrastructure projects have created an “unprecedented challenge” for Southeast Asia, the CEO of the MRC Secretariat Dr Anoulak Kittikhoun warned.

Last year, the traditional wet season shortened from five months to four, from June-October to July-October. That’s what makes the replenishment of water so important. Of course, more precipitation also brings the risk of torrential rain and flash flooding, and danger to lives and property.

Yet, the numbers are still promising. MRC meteorological indicators show that from November 2021 to April 2022, the Lower Mekong Basin was not only wetter than in normal years, especially 2019 and 2020, but the accumulated 2022 rainfall was above average by about 25 percent, basin-wide.

At Thailand’s Chiang Saen, the second uppermost monitoring station in the Lower Mekong Basin, the water level rose from 1.84 metres on March 2 to 3.25 metres on May 11. Those figures are lower than the 60-year average from 1961 to 2021, but notably higher than the drought years of 2019-2021.

At the Vientiane station, water levels on March 2 and May 11 even exceeded the 60-year average, and were significantly higher than those of 2019-2020.

Meanwhile in Cambodia, water levels during the identical time period – along the stretch from the Stung Treng to Kompong Cham monitoring stations – increased between 0.66 and 2.22 metres. That was a rise of about 1.5 metres compared with the same time period last year.