The Srepok River is a major tributary of the Mekong River. Flowing from the Central Highlands of Vietnam into northeastern Cambodia, the Srepok River is central to the lives and cultural identities of more than 11,000 people in Cambodia who live along the river. Coming from nine different ethnic groups, these riparian communities are largely dependent on fishing, lowland rice cultivation, and the collection of non-timber forest products for their livelihoods. However, as the Srepok River undergoes major change due to development of a cascade of hydropower dams inside Vietnam, it has become increasingly more difficult for Cambodians living downstream of the projects to make their ends meet.
Beginning in 2003, Vietnam’s state-owned Electricity of Vietnam began constructing the 280 MW Buon Kuop Dam, the first of a seven dam cascade that ranges from 20 MW to 280 MW on the Srepok River without any consultation or consideration of impacts to downstream communities in Cambodia.
With the development of the Buon Kuop Dam, unusually low water levels were first experienced by downstream communities in 2003 and 2004. With time, these impacts grew more severe as the river’s flow regime significantly changed and water quality deteriorated, leading to the a series of devastating flash floods, river dry-ups, a decline in fish catches, and an increase in water-borne illness and disease. Despite the harm caused by the dam, Buon Kuop sought carbon off-setting credits by applying for Clean Development Mechanism funding. However, the project's application has since been terminated for unknown reasons.
Downstream villagers have yet to receive compensation or remedy from the transboundary impacts of upstream dams, leaving people in the same fate as communities from the neighboring Sesan River.
While most of the development to date has been concentrated in Vietnam, Cambodia now has plans to build two projects on the Srepok River, which includes the 300 MW Lower Srepok 3 and 220 MW Lower Srepok 4 dams. In 2008, a MoU to carry out the feasibility studies for the Lower Srepok 3 and 4 dams was signed by Guangxi Guiguan Electric Power Co. Ltd. However, in 2010 a new MoU was signed by the Chinese state-owned enterprise Huadian Corporation for the projects’ feasibility studies.
If built, these projects are likely to compound the suffering experienced from upstream dams. The projects will also have significant impacts on Cambodia’s protected areas, as the Lower Srepok 3 Dam will be located inside the Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary in Ratanakiri province and the Lower Srepok 4 Dam will inundate part of the Mondulkiri Protected Forest.