Official dismisses new fine's effect in easing dam release in Vietnam

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Flooded houses are an annual scene in central Vietnam. Photo by Truong Quang Nam

A new government resolution warns to fine hydropower investors over VND25-30 million (US$1,185-1,423) for discharging water without a proper heads-up, but victims say the fine is too small to change anything.

Signed October 17 and to take effect this December, the penalty will also apply when the investors are not prepared for urgent discharges or reservoir breaks, Thoi bao Kinh te Saigon Online reported Monday.

Hydropower plants are concentrated in the central region, also a frequent victim of typhoons that usually trigger water release for the dams' safety, but at the same time it makes floods worse for people.

Representatives from the region don't give the penalty announcement much credit.

Phan Duc Tinh, vice chairman of Dai Loc District in Quang Nam Province, said the money means nothing to the damage suffered by downstream people, and it won't work as a deterrent either.

"The investors will accept to be punished and will release water without thinking."

Tinh said Dai Loc is the bottom hole for water discharge from at least six dams every year, including the infamous A Vuong.

The dam stayed in the media spotlight for more than a year after it released 150 million cubic meters of water during storm Ketsana September 2009, worsening flooding that killed at least 163 people and caused over $786 million worth of property damage.

Tinh said reservoirs have become a major cause of floods in the area besides traditional causes like climate change or deforestation.

He said investors recently informed local residents two hours before the discharge, but they still had to bear some damage.

The official suggested that the dams run more water to generate more power by July or August, to increase their capacity for the typhoon season in September and October.

Hydropower plants also triggered earthquakes for being built on fault lines like the case of Song Tranh 2, also in Quang Nam, and have forced drought as they divert river flows like Dak Mi 4 plant in Da Nang, which also affects neighboring Quang Nam.

Quang Nam announced earlier this year that the central government had ratified its proposal to cancel 18 hydropower projects.

Last year, it canceled several small projects since they do not offer much benefit but cause as much damage as large ones.

The province has a total 44 approved hydropower projects with a capacity of 1,584 MW and projected annual earnings of VND6.2 billion ($292,000).

Vietnam relies on hydropower for about 40 percent of its electricity.

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