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11 megadams are operational on China’s upstream portions of the Mekong River with a cumulative water storage capacity of more than 40 cubic kilometers. The effects of China’s dam operation have severely altered the Mekong’s hydrological cycle, incurred economic costs to downstream stakeholders, and eroded ecological cycles which contribute to fisheries and agriculture. Prior to the launch of the Mekong Dam Monitor in December 2020, operational knowledge of the 11-dam cascade, data surrounding the conditions of upstream reservoirs and flow information was not been shared with downstream stakeholders. This withholding of data has resulted in suboptimal decisions downstream and reduced the transboundary river governance capacity of Lower Mekong stakeholders. The Mekong Dam Monitor seeks to reduce the upstream accountability gap, produce behavioral change throughout the Mekong Basin, and improve downstream environmental outcomes.
Climate patterns in the Mekong Basin are shifting with an increased persistence of drought in both the Mekong's dry season and wet season over the past five years. The Mekong's monsoon season is getting shorter delivering a stunted monsoon pulse which used to drive fisheries and agricultural productivity throughout Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. In Vietnam's Mekong Delta, rising sea levels cause salinity intrusion to penetrate more deeply on a daily and yearly basis. Upstream dams are operated in a way that exacerbates these early onset climate effects. Near-real time monitoring of previously un-monitored dams throughout the Mekong Basin can show both how these dams exacerbate conditions. More importantly, the data can be used to inform stakeholders throughout the basin as to how existing dams can be operated to reduce and mitigate these climate impacts. Timely notification via social media communications on anomalies and sudden operational changes to dams benefits subsistence fishers and farmers, many of whom are ethnic minorities and/or live in impoverished conditions along the river's course. The Mekong Dam Monitor provides a view of water availability week to week across all major dams in the Mekong Basin.