The Stream, March 13, 2024: Cambodia Canal Proposal Could Harm Mekong Delta

The Mekong River, near Can Tho, has been plagued by saltwater intrusion during recent droughts that has hurt rice yields. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue


  • Proposed $1.7 billion canal in Cambodia would link a coastal port to a Mekong River tributary.
  • Saudi-owned company stops farming in an Arizona valley where its use of groundwater to grow alfalfa for export attracted state scrutiny.
  • International aid group warns of cholera outbreak due to fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo that has uprooted hundreds of thousands of people since February.
  • February was the ninth consecutive month with record-breaking global average air temperatures.

State and tribal lawmakers in Arizona are working toward a Colorado River water rights settlement for the Navajo Nation.

“We have the right Congress, we have the right president, and it’s very hopeful. Because next year might be a whole different ballgame. It’s going to be very uncertain.” — Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren

The Navajo Nation and more than a dozen parties are attempting to settle claims to water in Arizona’s portion of the Colorado River basin, the Associated Press reports. Included in the potential deal are the neighboring Hopi and San Juan Southern Paiute tribes.

Agreeing to the terms is but one step in a long process. Any agreement must be approved by state lawmakers, tribal leaders, and Congress.

The 30 federally recognized tribes in the Colorado River basin collectively claim as much as 29 percent of the river’s recent flow. The Navajo Nation, which has the largest reservation in the basin, has already settled its claims in New Mexico and Utah.

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Stream Editor

Recent WaterNews from Circle of Blue

The Lead

Fondomonte, a Saudi-owned firm, has stopped farming in an Arizona valley where the company’s operations drew public ire over its groundwater use, the Associated Press reports.

The State Land Department had announced in October that it would not renew three of Fondomonte’s four leases in the Butler Valley basin. The agency announced last week that the company has stopped irrigating the land.

Fonodmonte pumped groundwater in the Butler Valley to grow forage crops to export back to Saudi Arabia for use as livestock feed. Due to groundwater scarcity, the arid country banned the farming of forage crops in 2018.

Those troubles followed Fondomonte to Arizona. Neighbors in La Paz County complained of dry wells, prompting the state to take action. “I’m not afraid to hold people accountable, maximize value for the state land trust, and protect Arizona’s water security,” Gov. Katie Hobbs said in a written statement.

This Week’s Top Water Stories, Told In Numbers


Consecutive months in which the global average air temperature broke the monthly record. Copernicus Climate Change Service, a European science agency, notes that from June every month has been the warmest since the agency began tracking data in 1940. “The climate responds to the actual concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere so, unless we manage to stabilize those, we will inevitably face new global temperature records and their consequences,” said Carlo Buontempo, the agency’s director.



People who fled a conflict zone in recent weeks in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Fighting between the military and M23 rebels has displaced 1.6 million people in the last two years. The aid group Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières warns that crowded shelters with inadequate water and sanitation will cause cholera outbreaks to flare.

In context: Cholera Cases Spike amid Extreme Weather, Conflict

On the Radar

The new government in Cambodia has its eyes on a $1.7 billion canal that is stoking regional rivalries and could harm the Mekong delta, Nikkei Asia reports. The Chinese-funded project would link Cambodia’s coastal port with an inland tributary of the Mekong River, near the capital of Phnom Penh. The Funan Techo canal would allow Cambodian cargo to bypass Vietnam, which sits at the mouth of the Mekong River, but ecologists worry about the canal’s effect on river flows and salinity in the fragile delta, which is already rattled by rising seas and a sediment deficit caused by upstream dams. Hun Manet, Cambodia’s new prime minister, vows to start the project this year, but a feasibility study is still in progress and no independent environmental review has been undertaken.

More Water News

Fluoride in Drinking Water: Lawmakers in at least three states are attempting to undo state mandates to add fluoride to drinking water, Stateline reports. Lawmakers in Georgia, Kentucky, and Nebraska want to leave the choice to local politicians. Fluoride in drinking water, at appropriate levels, is proven to prevent tooth decay.

Okefenokee Mining Fight: The U.S. government is employing a legal strategy more common in the western states to intervene in a dispute over a mine proposed near Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, in southern Georgia. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is claiming “federal reserved rights” to water for the refuge, the Associated Press reports.

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