The Stimson Center and its partners launched the Mekong Dam Monitor, a near-real time data platform that uses remote sensing to bring unprecedented transparency to dam operations and water levels across the six countries of the Mekong basin: China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The platform is freely available for public use on the U.S. State Department’s Mekong Water Data Initiative website. The project is a collaboration between the Stimson Center and Eyes on Earth, Inc., with funding from the Mekong-US Partnership and the Chino Cienega Foundation.
Multiple Tools in One Platform
For the first time ever, policymakers and the public can have a near-real time picture of how major dams and the climate impact the Mekong’s hydrological conditions. The platform includes:
- River and dam water levels at dozens of locations across the river basin. An interactive map combines data from physical gauges and new “virtual gauges” to provide a single, easily scaled window into water availability, river level, and dam operations. The Monitor’s innovative virtual gauges combine cloud piercing satellite imagery, GIS, and validation modeling to estimate dam and river levels in places where it is not measured or the data is not shared by authorities.
- The status of China’s Lancang Dam Cascade. For the first time, users can see the current and historical status of China’s 11-dam cascade, showing how storage and release across the dams is coordinated for power generation. China’s Xiaowan and Nuozhadu dams together collectively hold about as much water as in the Chesapeake Bay. The platform also includes data from mainstream and tributary dams down river of China’s cascade.
- Natural Flow Models showing how much water should be in the Mekong. Project partner Eyes on Earth uses climate data to show how the river would naturally flow without upstream manipulation by dams or other diversions. The two locations modeled explain approximately 90% of the observed variation.
- Climate anomaly comparisons. Users can compare current and historical maps showing temperature, precipitation, surface wetness, and snow cover in the Mekong basin. Most data is available from 1992 to mid-2020.
- Comprehensive location and construction data on dams across the Mekong basin. The Monitor maps all hydropower dams on the Mekong and its tributaries and, where available, includes data such as dam developers, financers, builders, energy generation, and more.
Brian Eyler, Stimson Center Southeast Asia Program Director and project co-lead said, “The Mekong Dam Monitor platform lifts the veil on dam operations and water levels on the Mekong in a way that’s never been possible before. With innovations like the ‘virtual gauge’ and by pulling various data into one place, we are empowering a wide range of stakeholders across the region. In turn, we hope that transparency will increase accountability, empower countries most affected by dams, and ultimately help protect both the river and the people who depend on it.”
Alan Basist, President of Eyes on Earth and project co-lead said, “We’re taking a data and evidence-based approach that complements the work of regional organizations and supports their missions. Data is our starting point — satellite imagery, wetness and precipitation data, GIS measurements, and more. Hopefully this can help policymakers promote transparency, as well as support a level playing field for negotiations on how best to allocate water resources in the Mekong Basin.”