‘On the River of No Returns: Thailand’s Pak Mun Dam and its Fish Ladder’ (2001 Study )

Pak Mun Dam

From ON THE RIVER OF NO RETURNS: THAILAND’S PAK MUN DAM AND ITS FISH LADDER, Tyson R. Roberts, ThaiScience 2001 (pdf)

Most fish species living in the Mun River are unable to climb or are for other reasons not using the ladder installed on Pak Mun Dam. This is especially true for large species most important in wild-capture fisheries. The ladder is unsuccessful in maintaining fish spawning migrations because few or no gravid females of any species climb it. Various proponents of Pak Mun Dam claim that its main impact on fish is that they cannot swim upstream and downstream past the dam. This is far from the only impact. The real problem is not with the ladder. Rather Pak Mun Dam itself is ecologically unfriendly to fishes.

A reservoir outflow is not a normal river. The abnormal flow regime and other artificial features in the outflow of Pak Mun Dam have severe impacts on fishes for 4.5 km until it joins the Mekong mainstream which dissipates (but is also effected by) its negative impacts. Pak Mun Reservoir is also very unfriendly to fish. This apparently is due mainly to having its bottom smothered by silt and its open water with an exceptionally heavy silt load at all times because of the highly abnormal “run of the river” flow conditions.

When the water level in Pak Moo Reservoir is at 108 m. “peak electricity generation” causes daily fluctuations in water flow downstream from Pak Mun Dam and daily draw-downs in the reservoir that disturb fish habitats and disrupt fish migration. If reservoir water levels are too low, the amount of water released from the sluice gates may be less than the lowest flow that normally occurs for only a few days or weeks of particularly dry years (if the reservoir level falls below 94 m the outflow will stop altogether). During minimum outflow the water quality also can be much poorer than that of normal dry-season low water without the dam. The other extreme occurs when water has to be released to prevent the reservoir itself from over-flowing. Opening the sluice gates on the spillways when the reservoir level is high can create a destructive torrent far stronger than any that occurred during the worst floods in the Moo River before Pak Moo Dam. Maximum as well as minimum outflows from Pak Moo Reservoir are lethal to fish.

The problem of Pak Mun Dam and fisheries may be summarized as follows: an artificial and hostile downstream environment (reservoir outflow) and an artificial and hostile upstream environment (reservoir) are connected by artificial and hostile corridors (fish ladder and dam spill-ways). The resulting impact accumulation has devastating over-all effects on fish habitats and fish species. Pak Mun Dam together with its 35-km long reservoir and 4.5 km reservoir outflow is a major geographic barrier to all kinds of fish movements between the Mekong and the Mun.

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