Water is not an endless resource

Le Viet Son, head of the Northern Region Water Resources Planning Department from the Institute of Water Resources Planning, talks to the newspaper Hà Nội Mới (New Hà Nội) on the need to use water sustainably in agriculture production.

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Water is not an endless resource
Hoa Binh hydropower plant situated on Da River in the northern province of Hoa Binh discharged water from one of its floodgates. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Hai

Northern provinces have entered the monsoon season, yet the water level in many rivers, including the Da and Red rivers, remains low. Why is this?

When the Hoa Binh Hydro Power Plant – some 75 km west of Hanoi – started to generate electricity in 1987, it was reported that land erosion was a big problem for many areas in the Red river basin, while the water levels in both the Red and Da river was low. Compared with the water level in the Da River – at the junction between the Thao River and the Da River – in some places was reported at between 0.51-1.96m in some places. Similar situations were also reported on the Thao, Da and Duong rivers. On average, the water levels in these rivers dropped by 0.36-2.8 metres. This caused problems for the production of hydroelectricity.

It is projected that in 2019, the negative impacts of El Nino will make northern provinces suffer from water shortages.

In the last six months, the rain in the north region dropped by 20-60 per cent. As a result, the water volume in the five major reservoirs of Son La, Lai Chau, Hoa Binh, Thac Ba and Tuyen Quang has dropped some 4.1 billion cubic metres compared with the average level over many years.

Vietnam is a country criss-crossed with rivers, yet it is reported that the country faces a water shortage. What is the cause of this?

Vietnam has more than 3,450 rivers and streams with lengths of more than 10km. They are located in 108 river basins, with a total water surface volume of between 830-849 billion cubic metres per annum.


According to international standards, the average annual water per person in Vietnam is more than 3,900cu.m per year – a higher level than in the rest of Asia. However, the volume of water generated in the country is just 37 per cent while the remainder comes from neighbouring countries. This a concern for Vietnamese authorities on how to utilise water for agriculture production and electricity generation.

Irrigation projects in many parts of the country cannot operate due to the shortage of water as many rivers are dead because no water runs from the upper reaches or the water is seriously polluted. And the hardest hit province is Hanoi.

To avoid land subsidence, Hanoi has ordered the limitation of underground water exploitation for domestic use while encouraging water plants to tap surface water for daily operation. How do you respond to Hanoi authorities’ decision?

I couldn’t agree more. They have made the right decision. The use of underground water for many years has become a main cause leading to land subsidence in many localities in the city. Furthermore, quality control of underground water is a big issue while Hanoi could use the surface water from the Da River, Red River and Duong River and others to produce running water for Hanoi.

Has the water irrigation sector adopted any measures to help reduce the falling levels of water in river basins nationwide?

Agriculture production already consumes up to 82 per cent of the surface water of the country. That’s why in the last 10 years, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) has worked closely with all provincial and city authorities and Viet Nam Electricity (EVN) to regulate the use of water for electricity generation and agriculture production to avoid the forced discharge of water from hydropower plants to irrigate crops.

The MARD has also asked farmers to restructure their crops to make them suitable for climate change.


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