Mekong returning to normal as water level rises

Mekong returning to normal as water level rises

Small freight vessels and passenger cruises have resumed services after the water level of the Mekong River rose. (Bangkok Post file photo)
Small freight vessels and passenger cruises have resumed services after the water level of the Mekong River rose. (Bangkok Post file photo)

CHIANG RAI: Small freight vessels and passenger cruises have resumed services after the water level rose above two metres on a stretch of the Mekong River in Chiang Saen district yesterday, according to the provincial office.

Cargo and cruise vessels plying the international river were mostly grounded last week when the water level dropped below two metres after the Jinghong dam in China discharged less water, which disrupted freight and passenger transport in downstream countries, including Thailand.

Chiang Rai provincial governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn said the river receded to an average of 1.9 metres last week leaving even small cargo and passenger vessels stranded.

The shallow water left many boats unable to unload passengers as they had to moor too far from the banks, he said.

The Marine Department, security agencies and the Foreign Ministry contacted Chinese authorities and asked for more water to be released from the dam.

Mr Narongsak said China agreed to the request and released more water, pushing the level in the Mekong up to 2.30 metres in Chiang Saen district.

The cargo and passenger boats stranded last week in Chiang Rai, the south of China, Myanmar and Laos, have now resumed services. Many of the boats were grounded in Ban Mong Pa Liew on the border between Myanmar and Laos which is about 50 kilometres from Chiang Saen district.

Mr Narong, the Marine Department and navy officials inspected the river in the district yesterday. Although the water has risen above two metres, boat drivers have been warned to take extra care when negotiating the waterway.

Last week, a source familiar with the water issue said before the Jinghong dam was built, the Mekong was almost dry in several parts at the onset of summer.

After the dam opened, China was able to better control the flow of the international river from its end.

However, the river became unusually shallow for this time of year even with the stabilising system afforded by the dam. The most affected areas have been the Saen Pee, Mong Pa Liew and Tang Or watercourses in parts of the river where rocks and boulders are found.

Mr Narong said yesterday that if the water level remained stable above two metres, freight and passenger boat services should have no problems. However, large boats may have to carry up to 30% less cargo to avoid the danger of running aground.

A local source said the Jinghong dam, situated about 300 kilometres north of Chiang Saen district, had only been discharging about half of the usual volume, which is unusual.

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