Dam forces drought on Da Nang, Quang Nam

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A river that has run dry near a hydropower dam in Quang Nam Province

Authorities in the central city of Da Nang have asked the management of a hydropower dam to release water back into a river because more than 1.7 million residents living on its lower reaches are facing serious water shortages in the dry season. 

They have told the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Ministry of Industry and Trade that the Dak Mi 4 Hydropower Plant is to blame for the abnormal and serious drought situation in the Vu Gia River Basin.

It said the fact that the plant did not discharge water into the lower section of the river, coupled with low rainfall has put the whole city at risk of a crippling shortage of water for daily life and agricultural production.

Huynh Van Thang, deputy director of the Da Nang Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the city may experience the most serious drought in 40 years.

He said the reason for the water shortage is that the Dak Mi 4 Hydropower Plant was designed to take water from Vu Gia River and discharge to the Thu Bon River, instead of the lower section of the former.

When the plant operates, the lower section of Vu Gia River loses half its water volume.

Thang also said the plant still had a rather volume of water in its reservoir, but it was not discharging it.

"The plant must give the water back, or 1.7 million residents living near the lower section of Vu Gia River in Da Nang City and Quang Nam Province will face serious drought," he said.

Tran Van Bao, a farmer in Quang Nam Province's Dien Hoa Commune, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper the commune used to be a fertile land with abundant fresh water resources, but it has run dry even before the advent of summer.

He said farmers are living in fear as rice plants have started to bear grains; if the weather continues to be sunny and hot for another week, the water in ponds and lakes will run dry and they would not be able to water the plants.

Nguyen Dinh Hai, deputy director of the Quang Nam Irrigation Company, said since the Dak Mi 4 Hydropower Plant came into operation two years ago, the water flowing into the lower section of Vu Gia River decreased, making the lives of rice farmers difficult. 

They have had to live with frequent water shortages, while some pumping stations had to stop operations as the water had become highly saline. 

Local authorities have dredged canals and utilized fresh water from ponds and lakes in residential areas, but these water bodies were running dry too. 

If the current trend continues, more than 2,000 hectares of rice crops may be lost, Hai said.

According to Da Nang City's Cau Do Water Company, which supplies more than 90 percent of domestic water for the city, the river section from which the company extracts water has been "extremely salinated" for the last three months.

In order to maintain water supply for around one million residents of Da Nang, the Da Nang Water Supply Company has had to take water from the An Trach pumping station eight kilometers away, but company officials say this can only be a temporary solution.

Requests ignored

In 2008, Da Nang authorities repeatedly asked the Ministry of Industry and Trade to halt construction of the Dak Mi 4 hydropower dam to reconsider the dam's design for water discharge.

According to the design, the main current of the Dak Mi River would flow into Thu Bon River, instead of Vu Gia River's lower sections.

In reply, Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai, on April 29, 2010, ordered Vietnam Urban and Industrial Zone Development Investment Corporation - investor in the Dak Mi 4 plant - to build a sluice gate to discharge 25 cubic meters of water per second back to Vu Gia River to avoid the risk of water shortage.

However, the order has been ignored.

On April 1, the Ministry of Industry and Trade told the press that water for domestic use and production must have priority over electricity generation.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has said it is working with authorities of Quang Nam and Da Nang and will ask the management of the Dak Mi 4 plant and Electricity of Vietnam to find a solution to provide enough water for residents.

Huynh Nghia, deputy head of Da Nang's National Assembly delegation, said last Tuesday that at the next parliamentary session in May, he would seek intervention from the Ministry of Industry and Trade to ensure that the Dak Mi 4 hydropower plant discharge water to the Vu Gia River.

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