Supporting Water Management in the Lower Mekong with Satellites

Published: Oct 24 2016

Densely populated communities living along low-lying deltas in Southeast Asia are dependent on the underground water stores these deltas provide for their livelihoods. This reliance, along with the lack of effective and timely planning, results in over-exploitation of this valuable resource and has led to increased flood risk and downward sinking of the ground (called subsidence). These risks are only increasing as use, rechanneling, and damming of upstream rivers further exacerbate the problem. 

Many of these challenges are intensified by climate change and natural disasters afflicting the region. Challenges in sustainable development will worsen as people recognize that they are exposed to increasingly dangerous and unacceptable levels of risk from disasters. In addition, major environmental changes such as alterations to water regimes are linked to challenges in maintaining ecosystem services, conserving water resources, and maintaining soil and water quality.

Decision makers in these countries need technical support in effectively monitoring and managing these water resources. Informed decision making requires getting the right information consistently over time about river/reservoir levels, rainfall, groundwater, land subsidence, and sea level. In short, they need highly accurate, holistic information about the dynamic state of water resources evolving in their countries. This allows decision makers to understand changes, identify solutions, and monitor the impact of interventions to address water management issues. 

With NASA’s publicly available satellite data, accessing information to support decision making on these issues has never been easier. The use of satellite data provides consistent information over time at small and large scales, meeting the needs of water resource managers and other officials. 
SERVIR-Mekong, funded by USAID in partnership with NASA, joined forces with USAID’s Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) to help decision makers in Southeast Asia learn how to access and use this critical satellite data. The Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC), strategic partner and host to SERVIR-Mekong, recently collaborated with the SERVIR Applied Sciences Team and a USAID PEER* project in organizing a 3-day training in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Building Lasting Capacity for Water Management in Lower Mekong using Satellite Observations for stakeholder agencies in the region. The workshop used the strength of these partnerships, bringing the expertise and experience of various agencies together to promote the use of satellite data for better and more timely decision making in water management. 

SERVIR’s Applied Sciences Team (AST) members Hyongki Lee from the University of Houston, Faisal Hossain from the University of Washington, and Nishan Biswas (Hossain’s student) led the 5-7 October 2016 workshop with support from SERVIR-Mekong and Luong Nguyen, principal investigator of the PEER project. There were 29 participants from various agencies in Vietnam, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Thailand.

Lee explaining principle of satellite altimetry

The workshop’s goal was to build effective applications or adoptions of satellite remote sensing technology within stakeholder agencies and help ensure their sustained use. This was a highly targeted training and involved one-on-one, hands-on interaction with individual stakeholders. Through focused engagement, the workshop was able to address specific decision making processes from participants to identify concrete solutions, using satellite technology, to address water management issues. 
“I learned about very new satellite tools and data other than optical satellite images such as the Vietnamese VNREDSat-1 images that we routinely use,” said Luu Thi Phuong Mai from the Department of National Remote Sensing in Vietnam. 

Workshop participants and trainers

Those tools and data were among the workshop topics, which included

- Virtual water level gauging using Jason-2 satellite altimetry 
- Reservoir outflow estimation 
- Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) modeling 
- Water storage changes using data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE)
- Brief introduction about subsidence monitoring using interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) technique and web portal development
- Presentation by SERVIR-Mekong about their upcoming tools dedicated to water resource management in the Lower Mekong region 

Biswas explaining the mass balance equation for a reservoir

Throughout the event, participants were able to see the opportunities for applying this technology to their daily work. 

“As our main task is to forecast river levels in central and southern Vietnam, virtual gauging, reservoir outflow estimation, and VIC modeling will be useful to strengthen our capability,” said Doan Quang Tri from the National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting (NCHMF) in Vietnam. 

Prasit Deemanee Vong from the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology of Lao PDR noted: “As there is currently a groundwater monitoring project in Lao PDR, GRACE would be useful.” 

Lee, from the SERVIR AST, commented: “This workshop was a great opportunity for us to interact with individuals with passions to work for their countries with new remote sensing techniques and hydrologic modeling. Based on the participants’ feedback, we will tailor the tools we developed for the training in order to better meet their urgent needs in water management. Our ultimate goal is to address the unique and diverse needs and operating conditions of stakeholder agencies to enable integrated water management and flood/drought risk reduction.” 

The momentum built in this workshop will continue into another training planned at US institutions. Dr. Duong Bui, Deputy Director of the Water Resources Monitoring Department at NAWAPI in Vietnam, will visit the University of Houston and University of Washington from 30 October - 10 November 2016 to learn more about using the VIC model as well as data from GRACE for assessing water resources. The project team anticipates that sustainable applications can be built at NAWAPI in the near future. The team will then expand capacity building efforts into other Southeast Asian countries in efforts to fulfill the SERVIR vision of ‘connecting space to village.’

*The Institute of Environmental Science and Engineering (IESE) under the National University of Civil Engineering (NUCE) was recently funded by the PEER program to carry out the PEER project, entitled Application of Geodetic, Satellite Remote Sensing and Physical Modeling Tools for Management of Operational Groundwater Resource in the Red River Delta, Vietnam. Dr. Faisal Hossain at University of Washington is the US supporting partner of this PEER project.

The USAID-funded PEER program, like SERVIR, is intended to build scientific capacity and empower researchers in developing countries to use science, technology, innovation, and partnerships to address local and global development challenges.

Related Articles