Balancing Water Demands In Vietnam

The Dong Nai river basin in South Viet Nam has a catchment area of 47,300 square kilometers, making it the third largest in Vietnam. The Phuoc Hoa Water Resources Project is to provide additional water in the Saigon and Vam Co Dong river basins for development of irrigated agriculture and to supplement existing supplies for salinity control and domestic, municipal, and industrial use in Ho Chi Minh City and the surrounding provinces.

The Phuoc Hoa Water Resources Project is enabling sustainable water use in rapidly developing areas around Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnam is prospering. For almost 20 years, its growth rate has stood firm at around 7 percent annually. During the first decade of this century, its gross domestic product tripled, and its exports quadrupled.

With factors including greater political stability and reform, and one million young people arriving on the job market every year, investment persists. Many dramatic social and economic changes have resulted, and the question of how this emerging modern nation grows is just as important as by how much.

Agriculture remains a fundamental kernel of the economy. Sustainability is vital to Vietnam for many reasons. The country is one of the world’s major rice, coffee and rubber exporters. Three out of four Vietnamese citizens also live in the countryside. Any sustainable development in Vietnam must consider the realities of these demographics and balance growth between city and countryside – or in other words, industry and agriculture.

Competing needs of industry and agriculture in times of rapid development have been brought to a head during periods of water shortages in recent years. In 2000, power cuts were ordered across Ho Chi Minh City as drought threatened hydroelectric production. In 2005, following another period of drought, a power shortfall of 854 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) occurred across 11 hydroelectric dams as water was diverted for agriculture. Similarly in 2008, water shortages in Hanoi led to the release of 2.2 billion cubic meters of water (equivalent to 430 million kWh of electricity) from three hydroelectric dams, again for agricultural use.

Holistic planning of the country’s water resource, therefore, plays a significant role in the long-term development of Vietnam. Balancing the competing agriculture needs of rural areas with the emerging and consuming needs of burgeoning cities and industry is key if Vietnam is to strike the right long-term path for the country.


The Phuoc Hoa Water Resources Project sets out to plan for more efficient use and availability of water supplies for agricultural and industrial development in the southern portion of Vietnam, as well as increased municipal and domestic water demand. First conceived in the 1980s, the project takes a true regional view of the available water resource across the Dong Nai – Sai Gon Basin. It plans the long-term allocation of the supply across five provincial boundaries (Ho Chi Minh City, Binh Duong, Binh Phouc, Tay Ninh and Long An), including some of the country’s largest urban and industrial development areas. These areas in particular continue to expand, and their water demands will continue to increase.

“The master plan aims to approach water resource planning in a sustainable fashion for the people of Vietnam. It will make an important impact to the lives of the nine million people, improving the water supply and salinity control in the region,” said Alan Man, Vice President and Managing Director of Black & Veatch’s North Asia Pacific water business.

Man pointed out that more importantly, the Phuoc Hoa Water Resources Project will directly increase agricultural income and employment opportunities for approximately 140,000 people currently not experiencing the fruits of Vietnam’s modernization progress.


After a series of studies, the project got under way in 2004 with funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD), the Vietnamese government and project beneficiaries. It is a monumental effort.

Central to the project is the transfer of water from Phuoc Hoa Reservoir to Dau Tieng Reservoir and the subsequent reallocation of water for irrigation to two new irrigation areas at Tan Bien and Duc Hoa.

“These areas cover some 29,000 hectares of land, mostly paddy fields which are more remote from the effects of modernization,” said Nguyen Xuan Hung, Black & Veatch Deputy Team Leader of the project. “They are poorer, less developed areas compared to downstream Ho Chi Minh City. This really is a balanced, sustainable water plan with diverse economic benefits at the heart of the solution.”

The transfer of water will intensify crop yields, thanks to increased and more effective irrigation. AFD said studies have shown that agricultural income could increase by 100 to 250 percent for some land. The drinking water supply in villages will also advance hygiene conditions, and improved drainage from irrigation will mitigate against flooding.

In addition, increased flows during the dry seasons in the Vam Co Dong and Saigon rivers will boost the supply of bulk water for Ho Chi Minh City and, importantly, control saline intrusion. Saline control is essential to the water supply for industry, as well as for municipal and domestic use. The increased flows also help mitigate effects of rising sea levels – a concern on every sustainable blueprint in Vietnam, which boasts 3,444 km (2,066 miles) of coastline.


Black & Veatch, involved in the original feasibility studies, has been working closely with the Investment and Construction Management Board 9 of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to review, design and construct the project since 2006. The first phase was completed in 2011 with the delivery of infrastructure, including the Phuoc Hoa Barrage (with a capacity of 18.5 million cubic meters) and a 40 kilometer transfer canal (with a flow of 55 cubic meters per second). Together the structures develop the water supply from the Be River and transfer it to the Dau Tieng Reservoir, conveying this surplus water resource toward the stressed Saigon (directly) and Vam Co Dong (indirectly) rivers.

The Tan Bien main canal was also constructed in Phase One, joining the existing Dau Tien West Canal, in preparation of the development of the new irrigation area at Tan Bien. Phase Two of the project is due for completion in 2014 and will see the development of the new irrigation areas as well as the Duc Hoa main canal – in preparation for the second new irrigation area at Duc Hoa.

Integral to the sustainability of this holistic water resource project have been other important development aspects. A resettlement program for affected living areas was delivered as well as environmental management programs to minimize the works’ impacts. Black & Veatch continues to provide support to develop capacity within government institutions, irrigation management companies, and water user groups.

This article has been republished with permission by Black & Veatch.


About Christina Hartinger, Director of Projects, North Asia Pacific, Black & Veatch’s Global Water Business

Topics: Black & Veatch, Water Infrastructure/Treatment.

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