Legislators call for tighter hydro plant controls to curb floods

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National Assembly members demanded the government tighten control over hydro power plant projects on Friday after discharge by a plant in the central region worsened flooding during typhoon Mirinae.

Nguyen Dinh Xuan, a member of the National Assembly's Science, Technology and Environment Committee, said inspections needed to be carried out to see if reservoirs at power plants in the central region were capable of containing water and control floods.

Xuan said the issuance of new hydro power licenses should be halted immediately until there was a scientific report on existing plants.

Assessment

Ba Ha River Power Plant in Phu Yen discharged water from its reservoir at 800-1,000 cubic meters per second on Monday, the same day typhoon Mirinae hit the province. Then on Tuesday, the reservoir increased the release to 14,450 cubic meters per second, worsening floods in areas below the dam.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade, which overseas hydro power plants in Vietnam, had to take responsibility if water released from the plant had actually made floods worse, he said.

"It's time to look at all the plants' plans, decide whether or not there are already too many hydro power plants and then assess their impact on the environment," said Trinh Thi Nga from the Economic Committee.

Nga also said the government needed to make sure that all existing plants are managed properly "to prevent future cases similar to what just happened at the plant in Phu Yen Province."

Phu Yen Province was the hardest hit by floods brought by Mirinae with 73 deaths as of Friday, according to the Central Committee for Flood and Storm Control.

One for all

In an interview with Tuoi Tre this week, Vo Van Tri, director general of Ba Ha River Hydropower Joint-stock company, said the water discharge was a last resort to ensure the reservoir's safety.

Tri also said poor cooperation among the five hydropower plants on the river had also contributed to the release. He said the reservoir was the lowest of five built on the same river system.

Representative Nga said all hydro power plants on the same river should be placed under one managerial umbrella to regulate the amount of water that each contains and releases.

"A river runs through many provinces, so it's not right to let each province manage only its own hydro power plant," said Xuan from the science committee.

Nghiem Vu Khai, deputy chairman of the committee, said if authorities had failed to assess a power plant's plans before it was built, adjustments needed to be made.

Committee member Vo Minh Thuc said hydro power plants should be treated as assets that belonged to the whole nation, not just the central region.

Phu Yen Province alone has two power plants already, with another one in pipeline, Thuc said. "If these three plants don't know how to control floods, it will be extremely dangerous," he said, noting that this year floods in the province had already hit a record high. 

Thuc also said the government should consider carefully a plan to build a new hydro power plant in northern Lai Chau Province as there were many reservoirs upstream in China that could discharge huge volumes of water, which could endanger the Vietnamese plant.

In a report released Friday, the Committee of Science, Technology and Environment said further research on the plan would be required before building the power plant, the third on the Da River.

The government has admitted that the Lai Chau Power Plant would affect water flows to other plants.

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