Water discharge and sediment flux changes over the past decades in the Lower Mekong River: possible impacts of the Chinese dams
Abstract. The Lower Mekong River has witnessed extremely low water levels over the past few years. There is speculation that the changes are a consequence of the construction and operation of the Chinese cascade dams in the upper part of the Mekong main stream, the Lancang River. Dam construction on upper streams can produce a series of induced effects downstream, particularly in terms of water, sediment, channel and ecological changes. Analyses of discharge and sediment flux at various gauging stations on the Lower Mekong River have indicated a disruption in water discharge, water fluctuations and sediment transport downstream of the first Chinese dam among the 8 cascades (i.e. the Manwan Dam), after its reservoir was infilled in 1992. Dry season flows showed a declining trend, and water level fluctuations in the dry season increased considerably in the post-dam (1993–2000) period. Monthly suspended sediment concentration (SSC) has also decreased significantly in several gauging stations in the post-dam period. The estimation of sediment flux is challenging since the measurements of SSC were sporadic. Our estimation based on the available data indicated that the areas along the upper-middle and lowermost reaches of the Mekong River have experienced a decline in sediment flux, possibly due to sedimentation in the Manwan Dam. However, the decrease is only statistically significant at the nearest gauging station below the Dam (i.e. Chiang Saen). Areas located in the mid-length of the river show less sensitivity to the operation of the Manwan Dam, as sediment fluxes have remained stable or even increased in the post-dam period.