While Meko the Mekong Gaint Catfish has been exploring the Stanislaus River in California, Stan the Salmon had the chance to visit another part of the Mekong River last week. He traveled with Ms. Panoho’s 3rd grade class from Vientiane Pattana School to Nam Ngum Reservoir. Nam Ngum is one of 11 major tributaries of the Mekong River in Laos (there are about 39 major tributaries in the whole Mekong Basin). As students in both California and Laos have been learning, tributaries are an important part of a watershed – they are the smaller rivers that deliver water to bigger rivers.
Nam Ngum is also the site of the first hydroelectric dam built in Laos in 1971. After the dam was built it created a reservoir of about 450 square kilometers when full. For comparison, Lake Shasta, the largest reservoir in California, has a surface area of about 120 square kilometers (29,740 acres). How many times bigger is the surface area of Nam Ngum than Lake Shasta? Of course, the amount of water a reservoir can hold, or its storage capacity, depends not only on how wide it is (surface area), but also how deep it is. Changing a river into a reservoir also changes the habitat for fish – those that need fast-moving water to survive cannot live in reservoir conditions. Although some fishes from the river can no longer be found, the reservoir is still home to more than 40 species of fish, and supports several fishing communities,
The third graders to got to go swimming, but they made sure to keep an eye on Stan. “My class had lots of fun showing Stan the Salmon around Nam Ngum today,” Ms. Panoho writes. “They made sure he didn’t end up in the water, so he didn’t swim away from us!” Salmon don’t live in the Mekong River – thank you, third graders, for making sure Stan didn’t become the first!