This award supports field work in Laos by Ph.D. candidate, Julia Reis, in her study of the impact of the new Yali reservoir in Vietnam on the Mekong River in Cambodia downstream of the dam. In particular, the PI and Ms. Reis are developing methods to optimize reservoir operations to minimize negative impacts on the environment and the livelihoods of people living in the region. The Land Use Planning and Analysis System (LUPAS), an optimization model developed for Southeast Asia, will be utilized to integrate the livelihoods of residents near the Yali Reservoir into the planning process. Ultimately, the model will be used to optimize the operation of a cascade of 3 reservoirs (the Yali, Theun-Hinbun Expansion, and Lower Sesan 2).

Ms. Reis will join a large on-going research project through the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) of the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR). During two two-month visits to the Vientiane, Laos, office of IWMI, Ms. Reis will work with IWMI researchers as well as the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute to tailor her reservoir optimization model and link it with the LUPAS model. IWMI will also assist Ms. Reis in meeting with governmental agencies to collect natural resources data to populate the reservoir model with accurate data. Through collaborative meetings with stakeholder partners arranged by IWMI and other organizations, Ms. Reis and other project partners will work together to coordinate dam operation with local community and environmental needs.

The intellectual merit of the project rests in the integration of two complex systems in a simulation that can assist in optimizing reservoir operations. The proposal addresses the need for both vertical and horizontal integration of system descriptions. Horizontal integration brings together the management of natural resources such as soil, water, forests, and urban landscapes while the vertical integration focuses on how well engineers and planners understand the regional political and social climate, and how directly stakeholders can contribute to plans that can have great impact. With better understanding of the interactions and effects in these complex systems, i.e. a complete river basin, unintended but negative impacts on people and the environment may be minimized. This can have great significance for the society in the region. The project also contributes to the professional development of Ms. Reis and of an undergraduate who will also travel to Laos.

Project Report

This Doctoral Dissertation Enhancement Program award allowed doctoral student, Julia Reis, to collaborate with researchers in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) through the organizations International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF). With DDEP funding, she traveled to Lao PDR two times for a total of 4 months. Through this collaboration, the connections between a new hydropower reservoir and the livelihoods of its resettlement community were studied. With the project partners, the livelihoods of shoreline agriculture and fishing were identified as having key links to reservoir operation. In this study, computer modeling was used to quantify the water resources implications of re-operating the reservoir for shoreline agriculture and fishing goals. The results of this study were presented in an oral presentation at the Environmental Water Resources Institute conference in May of 2013 and a manuscript summarizing this work has been submitted to the journal Water Resources Research. A second component of this doctoral project concerned the same topic but focused on the rural livelihoods of resettlement community after considering the constraints and opportunities expected from the simulated reservoir performance. This study considered land use changes around a new reservoir, impacts on fishery productivity, plus human resources such as available man-hours and community preferences for how to support their local communities. Linear programming was used to identify optimal livelihood strategies for different temporal and livelihoods opportunities. This study was the first known to factor in reservoir operation to livelihoods- and land-use planning. A manuscript of this work has been developed and will be submitted this fall (2013) for publication in the journal Environmental Modelling & Software. As an outgrowth of the second study, the doctoral candidate conducted a livelihoods planning workshop in the resettlement community in August 2012. The workshop consisted of a game simulation, based on skeletal version of the livelihoods linear programming model, wherein community leaders made resource allocation decisions for 5 consecutive years. Working in small groups, participants discussed the best use of their resources and noted the outcomes of their decisions. As such, the game workshop provided a low-pressure, structured platform to discuss their livelihoods options, which are in flux due to the very environment impact of the reservoir. This workshop was recorded in a dissertation chapter and will be published perhaps as a short article in the coming fall. Overall, this project developed and demonstrated a methodology to successfully integrate the economies of local communities, the environmental impacts of a new reservoir, and hydropower energy production. It was shown for this system that the power production schedule could be modified with modest negative impacts on power production. Furthermore, implementing shoreline wetlands would not impact hydropower production, but could improve reliability of fisheries production and create an irrigation source for shoreline agriculture. Furthermore, this project enhanced relationships between the US and Lao research communities and introduced the local Lao villagers to an American researcher and integrated water resources management.

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University of Virginia
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