Students and professors from the University of Montana learn about how people are dealing with life and livelihoods under dynamic conditions

Water Management and a Changing Climate: Issues and Adaptation


“Water Management and a Changing Climate: Issues and Adaptation” by Milan Vinks

MilanMarket_838Water is arguably the most important resource on our planet. Without this substance and the unique characteristics associated with it life as we know it would not exist. Here in Vietnam and the Mekong River delta region, water is particularly important to the rural population, the majority of whom rely on rice farming and freshwater aquaculture for their subsistence. Besides sustaining a way of life, water in the Mekong delta is also crucial to Vietnam’s food production and export earnings. Rice production in the Mekong River delta accounts for 50% of Vietnam’s total rice production and accounts for 90% of the country’s rice export. Management of water resources in the Mekong Delta is thus essential in sustaining the livelihoods of the majority of the region’s population and assuring economic stability in the future.


Aquaculture_948The main source of water for the Mekong River delta region is the Mekong River, which is one of the few great, largely unregulated rivers in the world. This river originates in the high Tibetan Plataea and meanders through China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, where it releases about 475 km3  each year into the “South China Sea”. In 1995 Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam established the Mekong River Commission in order to manage and coordinate utilization of the river’s resources on an international level. However, on top of the international management of these water resources, each country faces unique management challenges once they have received the water, particularly Vietnam.

Since we have spent most of our time in the Mekong River delta region of Vietnam, I will specifically touch on the unique water-land issues that this region faces. These issues exist because of the region’s particular geomorphology and sedimentary composition. WaterGate_264FishermanWaterGate_270These aspects lead to problems such as acute flooding in the wet season; acid sulfate soils constraints on crop productivity in over 40% of the lower Delta and associated, severe, acidic drainage waters with major implications for aquatic productivity; seawater intrusion in the dry season in the lower Delta, limiting rice production to one crop per year in saline intrusion areas; and impacts of seawater intrusion floodgates on acidification (White, 2002). In order to manage these problems the Mekong River delta has become a network of canals, dikes, and sluice gates. RiceFarmers_006These infrastructural components assure that freshwater can be readily transported throughout the region, they allow excess floodwater and drainage water to be evacuated, and they provide a means of controlling preferred salinity levels based on the season. However, with an annual sea level rise of 2.8 mm and an increased risk of severe droughts, Vietnam has to actively pursue new strategies to mitigate and adapt to the impending impacts of climate change.

WaterPumps_130Fortunately, many Vietnamese researchers and politicians realize the potential implications associated with climate change and are actively sponsoring new sustainable methods to cope with these challenges. A key focus area is promoting more sustainable farming practices to preserve precious freshwater resources, especially in agricultural regions nearer to the coast, BoyWaterPipe_786where saline intrusion is a serious threat, and in regions that are already more susceptible to droughts. Such practices include integrated farming systems near coastal areas that grow paddy rice during the rainy season, when freshwater is readily available, and switch over to shrimp farming in the dry season when saline intrusion favors saltwater aquaculture. DriedMud_944In areas where droughts are already prominent, integrated rice and fish farming is recommended, where fishponds function as reservoirs, supplying rice crops with water in the case of drought. Hopefully these strategies will establish sustainable water management, while simultaneously preserving the livelihoods of farmers in the Mekong River delta and assuring the stability of Vietnam’s agricultural Economy in the future.


White, Ian. 2002. Water Management in the Mekong Delta: Changes, Conflicts and Opportunities. Technical Documents in Hydrology No. 61.

Dr. Duong Van Ni. The Mekong Delta of Vietnam: Development and Environment

Dr. Nguyễn Hiếu Trung. Climate Change and Sea Level Rise impacts and adaptations in the Mekong Delta.

Pham Le Thong. An Overview of the Vietnam and Mekong Delta’s Economy.

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