Three Gorges Dam – Updates

Written by  //  August 23, 2012  //  China, Environment & Energy  //  1 Comment

Important background Three Gorges Probe
Three Gorges Probe covers the social, environmental, scientific and economic impacts of big dams and other large-scale water projects in China, as well as alternatives to such schemes.
Launched in 1998, Three Gorges Probe is a bilingual website and electronic news service that provides uncensored coverage of the Three Gorges dam — the world’s biggest dam. Three Gorges Probe has broken major stories on the endemic corruption, human-rights abuses and technical flaws associated with the dam, and produced a detailed energy analysis showing the economic inefficiency of Three Gorges power.
Our involvement with the Three Gorges dam in China stretches back two decades. In 1989, Canadian engineers produced a feasibility study for the dam and recommended that the project “be carried out at an early date.” Pro-dam members of the Chinese leadership then silenced debate within China about the wisdom of building the dam and pushed the project through the National People’s Congress in 1992.
Probe used Canada’s Access to Information laws to obtain the feasibility study, and organized and published a scathing peer reviewed critique of it by internationally respected experts in Damming the Three Gorges: What Dam Builders Don’t Want You to Know(Probe International / Earthscan Publications, 1990 and 1993).

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Thousands being moved from China’s Three Gorges – again
(Reuters/Planet Ark) China relocated 1.3 million people during the 17 years it took to complete the Three Gorges dam. Even after finishing the $59 billion project last month, the threat of landslides along the dam’s banks will force tens of thousands to move again.
It’s a reminder of the social and environmental challenges that have dogged the world’s largest hydroelectric project. While there has been little protest among residents who will be relocated a second time, the environmental fallout over other big investments in China has become a hot-button issue ahead of a leadership transition this year.
The Three Gorges dam was completed in July when its final turbine joined the national grid and the facility reached its full capacity of 22.5 gigawatts, more than enough to power Pakistan or Switzerland.
As the dam was being built on the Yangtze River, in central Hubei province, authorities moved 1.3 million people who lived in what became its 1,045 sq km (405 sq mile) reservoir, an area greater in size than Singapore.
… In a sign of how sensitive the fresh relocations are, plainclothes security men and people who identified themselves as officials from the “news department” followed Reuters reporters around the area for three days, hindering interviews by intimidating locals with their presence.
… Besides 20,000 people in Huangtupo, another 100,000 may be moved in the next three to five years because of geological risks, Liu Yuan, an official with the Ministry of Land and Resources in Beijing said in April, according to state-run China National Radio.
21 August
Three Gorges Dam sees new round of flooding

(China Daily) Continuous rains near the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, China’s longest waterway, have caused water levels on the Three Gorges Dam to surge, bringing a new round of flooding to the dam.
As of 8 pm Monday, water inflow into the dam’s reservoir measured 25,000 cubic meters per second, much greater than the 17,000 cubic meters per second reported on August 15, according to the water resources bureau of the city of Yichang in central China’s Hubei Province.
25 July
Breathtaking force: World’s most powerful dam opens in China as gushing water generates the same power as FIFTEEN nuclear reactors
(Daily Mail) The giant and controversial Three Gorges Dam in China has launched the last of its generators, just as it hits its annual flood peak.
The final 32 generators went into operation this week, making it the world’s largest hydropower project, built on the Yangtze River in the Hubei Province.
It is designed to decrease the risk of flooding during the current peak rainfall season, as well as store and distribute water during the dry periods.
A series of incredible photos show the sheer force of the flood water released from seven spillways after heavy downpours in the upper reaches of the dam caused the highest flood peak of the year.
Water from the Yangtze River upper gushed at up 70,000 cubic metres per second into the dam’s reservoir yesterday.

2011

27 July
China’s Three Gorges project: A huge dam with big troubles
After years of denials, China admits its Three Gorges project is destabilizing land around the 400-mile-long reservoir, prompting calls for more costly resettlements.
(CSM) For years the Chinese government refused to acknowledge any dark side to its proudest engineering feat, the largest hydropower project in the world that is also designed to prevent the sort of catastrophic floods that have stricken millions of farmers in the Yangtze Basin for millenniums. Begun in 1994, it opened in 2008.
Two months ago, however, the State Council, China‘s cabinet, recognized that the dam had caused “urgent problems … regarding the smooth relocation of residents, ecological protection, and geological disaster prevention.”
That admission marked “a very significant change in attitude in China toward more openness,” says Lars Skov Andersen, a hydrologist working on a European Union-funded project to rehabilitate the Yangtze River watershed. “The Three Gorges project was not adequately prepared, so now it has to be repaired,” he says.
18 June
Choking on the Three Gorges
China’s government at last owns up to problems at its monster dam
(The Economist) RAIN along the middle and lower Yangzi River this week has helped alleviate the region’s worst drought in 50 years. But it has not doused a storm of criticism of the Three Gorges dam upriver, including allegations that it contributed to the disaster. Opponents of the colossal edifice have been emboldened by rare government admissions of environmental and other “urgent” problems caused by the dam.
… Having called the dam “hugely beneficial overall”, the cabinet’s statement said there were problems relating to the resettlement of 1.4m people, to the environment and to the “prevention of geological disasters” that urgently needed addressing. The dam, it said, had had “a certain impact” on navigation, irrigation and water-supply downstream. Some of these problems had been forecast at the design stage or spotted during construction. But they had been “difficult to resolve effectively because of limitations imposed by conditions at the time.” It did not elaborate.
China’s Three Gorges Dam draws criticism
Criticism of China’s Three Gorges Dam is mounting over authorities’ handling of resettlement plans and a host of environmental concerns ranging from pollution to habitat destruction. The $25 billion project has eased flooding along the Yangtze River and produces clean energy, but Chinese officials have acknowledged challenges associated with the dam. The Globe and Mail (Toronto) (6/11)
24 May
The Truth about the Three Gorges Dam
(Council on Foreign Relations) It has only taken ninety years, but China’s leaders have finally admitted that the Three Gorges Dam is a disaster. With Wen Jiabao at the helm, the State Council noted last week that there were “urgent problems” concerning the relocation effort, the environment and disaster prevention that would now require an infusion of US$23 billion on top of the $45 billion spent already.
19 May
Controversial Three Gorges dam has problems, admits China
(CSM) The world’s largest hydroelectric project was designed to tame the flood-prone Yangtze River and to generate clean energy. But the water is becoming polluted, and regular landslides are making life near the dam dangerous.
The 1.4 million people displaced by the dam, completed in 2006, are worse off than the government promised they would be, the dammed waters of the Yangtze River are increasingly polluted, and regular landslides and tremors are making life near the dam dangerous, officials and experts have warned.
“Although the Three Gorges project provides huge comprehensive benefits, urgent problems must be resolved regarding the smooth relocation of residents, ecological protection, and geological disaster prevention,” the statement said.
This will be “incredibly difficult,” warns Lei Hengshun, who teaches at Chongqing University’s Sustainable Development Research Center in Southwestern China. The land on which most of the displaced people were resettled, he points out, “is poor, infertile, and mountainous.”
9 May
China Three Gorges Water Levels Falling Faster Than Expected
(Bloomberg) China Three Gorges Corp. said water levels at the world’s biggest hydropower dam are falling faster than expected after flows from upstream on the Yangtze River this month were 40 percent less than in the previous three years.

2010

29 July
The Three Gorges Dam is tested, but not to breaking point
(The Economist) Officials now say that the dam was always intended to control flooding with anything as big as a once-in-a-century flood. The bigger claims refer to the structure’s ability to resist damage to itself. This year’s flood level is said to be short of what it reached in 1998. Casualties and damage in the Yangzi basin have also been less serious. But admirers of the dam are not yet declaring victory.
25 July
100,000 Chinese flee swollen rivers
(Montreal Gazette) Yangtze tributary bursts banks Premier warns worst may be ahead, as water level rises in Three Gorges reservoir
The massive hydroelectric project on the Yangtze River has come under scrutiny as dam authorities struggle to drain its fast-rising reservoir -swollen by upstream rains -while avoiding swamping communities downstream.
Its huge spillgates have gushed gigantic torrents of white water for days as the reservoir on Friday rose to a high for the year, nearly touching the dam’s 159-metre mark, the government said. Its maximum is believed to be 175 metres.
“The Three Gorges Dam is not a panacea,” Wei Shanzhong, deputy director of the Yangtze River Water Resources Commission, was quoted Friday by state media as saying.
He said authorities faced a delicate task in coming weeks in releasing water without triggering devastating floods in already waterlogged communities downstream.
24 July
China PM Wen Jiabao makes new flood warning
(BBC) South and central China, reeling from the worst floods in 12 years, could face even more severe deluges, Premier Wen Jiabao has warned. Mr Wen, pictured in state media wading through knee-high water in Wuhan, said the situation was at a “crucial stage”.
Floods have forced many thousands of people from their homes and claimed hundreds of lives this year.
The Three Gorges Dam, built in part to calm China’s longest river, the Yangtze, is running almost to capacity.
21 July
Three Gorges passes huge test
Contains raging flood waters; Despite its effectiveness, critics still dispute worth of world’s largest dam
China considers the Three Gorges Dam a wonder of its modern development. Since the completion of the original plan in 2008, it has steadily pumped out much-needed hydroelectricity, shipping on the Yangtze has increased significantly and flooding has been reduced.
But critics still dispute the worth of the world’s largest dam. Building it displaced 1.4 million people, flooded important archaeological and cultural sites and caused environmental damage that has increased landslides in the area.
Despite protests around the world in the decades leading up to building the $30-billion colossus that spans the Yangtze in Hubei province, Canada played a major role in getting the project rolling.
In 1988, the Canadian International Development Agency funded a $14-million feasibility study for the project, which relied heavily on Quebec expertise that was developed building such hydroelectric facilities as the James Bay project.
As well, in 1994 the Liberal government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien broke an informal international boycott on funding the project and opened the way for China to find the money and expertise it needed to build the dam.
19 July
Water Levels Near Record at Three Gorges Dam in China
Surging waters in the Yangtze River tested the strength of the Three Gorges Dam early Tuesday, as some of the fastest flowing floodwaters in more than a decade slammed against the world’s largest hydroelectric project, according to official Chinese news reports. (AP) Floods, landslides kill 15 in central China as world’s largest dam at its highest level ever
7 June
China: cracks in the Three Gorges Dam, so 300,000 people can wave goodbye to their homes
(The Telegraph) In China, cracks are appearing – in the neighbourhood of the massive Three Gorges Dam, the country’s great prestige project, and also in the Great Internet Firewall of China, enabling the ominous news to leak out. Three years ago stories were already emerging in the Chinese media about landslides, ecological deterioration and accumulation of algae further down the river. And less and less effort seems to be made to plug the leaks.
Recent media reports tell of a series of landslips, minor earthquakes and cracks appearing in roads and buildings along the central section of the Yangtse, between the dam and the city of Chongqing. Almost 10,000 “dangerous sites” have been identified, but many of the people living near them cannot be relocated for lack of money. Two years ago thousands of children died in Sichuan Province because their schools were not resistant to the earthquake which hit the area; in the town of Badong near Chongqing children are attending school in buildings which have been recognised as far more vulnerable. What else can they do? The local authorities can’t afford a new one.

2009

25 May
Hydro Risks Make China’s Three Gorges Look To Wind
(Reuters/Planet Ark) The state-owned company behind China’s Three Gorges Dam is looking to expand its wind power portfolio as the risks associated with hydroelectric projects grow, a senior executive said on Saturday. “Previously we focused mainly on hydropower but recently we have been restructuring and are moving towards wind and nuclear,” said Bi Yaxiong, the vice-general manager of the China Three Gorges Project Corporation (CTGPC). Tougher environmental safeguards and higher rates of compensation for those displaced by reservoir impoundment were now making it more difficult to launch large-scale hydropower projects in China.

2008

4 August
China’s Three Gorges Dam: An Environmental Catastrophe?
Even the Chinese government suspects the massive dam may cause significant environmental damage
(Scientific American) For over three decades the Chinese government dismissed warnings from scientists and environmentalists that its Three Gorges Dam—the world’s largest—had the potential of becoming one of China’s biggest environmental nightmares. But last fall, denial suddenly gave way to reluctant acceptance that the naysayers were right. Chinese officials staged a sudden about-face, acknowledging for the first time that the massive hydroelectric dam, sandwiched between breathtaking cliffs on the Yangtze River in central China, may be triggering landslides, altering entire ecosystems and causing other serious environmental problems—and, by extension, endangering the millions who live in its shadow.
23 July
Last Three Gorges Dam migrants evacuate as water rises
(Reuters) The final residents of Gaoyang in central Hubei province left on Tuesday, the end of an exodus that began four years ago, the official Xinhua agency reported.
In total, some 1.4 million people have been moved to make way for the waters behind a 2,309-metre-long dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric feat. It aims to tame the Yangtze River and provide clean, cheap energy for China’s rapid development.
Critics of the dam say that pollution and geological threats are piling up. Scientists have said that rising waters in the 660-km (400-mile) long reservoir have strained already brittle slopes, triggering landslides, which may worsen when waters reach a maximum height.
22 July
Algae infests river near Three Gorges Dam
The month-long algae outbreak on a tributary of the Yangtze River, blamed on large numbers of phosphor mines and processing factories, has sent an alert to environmental authorities to raise water treatment standards in the Three Gorges Dam area.
(NPR) China’s Three Gorges: Assessing the Impact
January 2, 2008 · As the reservoir behind the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River is to be filled to capacity, controversy has resurfaced, following official admissions that the dam could cause major ecological disasters unless preventive measures are taken.
The Three Gorges Dam … is one of the world’s most ambitious engineering projects — and part of the challenge is relocating the 1.3 million people whose homes and fields are being submerged in the reservoir.
China’s government says that the mass migration project is going smoothly, with most of the residents already having moved. Some have been relocated to other provinces and others just uphill from the site.

2007

6 December
CHINA’S THREE GORGES DAM – A MAGNET FOR CONTROVERSY
In October, China’s government announced that another four million people would have to be relocated from areas near the reservoir created by the dam, although officials claimed the resettlement has nothing to do with the dam.
The environment and the river ecology have been severely disrupted. Fish and mammal species face extinction because of increased shipping traffic and water pollution coming from Chongqing’s industrial belt.
And experts say the dam causes erosion, traps silt, and increases the risk of landslides. Last month, at least 35 people were killed in a landslide near the dam reservoir.

30 November
There are fears that China’s Three Gorges Dam is causing serious environmental problems, despite official claims to the contrary.
Local farmers, environmental campaigners and even officials themselves have voiced concern about environmental damage.
That damage includes landslides that have triggered 50 metre-high waves on the reservoir behind the dam, according to one local official.
But despite these widespread accusations, the Chinese central government insists there are no geological “abnormalities”.

27 September 2007
Three Gorges Dam is a disaster in the making, China admits
It was hailed as one of the engineering feats of the 20th century. Now the Three Gorges Dam across China’s mighty Yangtze River threatens to become an environmental catastrophe.
In an unprecedented admission of blame, Communist Party officials gave a stark warning yesterday of impending disaster in the vast area around the dam if preventive measures are not urgently introduced.
For more than a decade China has promoted the world’s biggest hydro-electric project as the best way to end centuries of floods along the basin of the Yangtze and to provide energy to fuel the country’s economic boom.
… [Now] surrounding areas are paying a heavy, and potentially calamitous, environmental cost. Hundreds of thousands of people may have to be moved. A total of 1.3 million have been displaced by the dam already.
… A government forum listed a host of threats such as conflicts over land shortages, ecological deterioration as a result of irrational development and, especially, erosion and landslides on steep hills around the dam. Other authorities have already raised concerns over algae bloom downstream from the Three Gorges and a deterioration in aquatic life. Full Story

One Comment on "Three Gorges Dam – Updates"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson December 28, 2007 at 8:51 pm · Reply

    China: New Dam Builder for the World
    By Shai Oster
    Wall Street Journal
    Home to almost half of the world’s 45,000 biggest dams, China has embarked on a push to export its hydropower know-how to developing countries — even as it contends with environmental damage and social upheaval at home from the massive Three Gorges Dam.
    Many other countries and international organizations have begun to shy away from dam building. But Chinese companies and banks are now involved in billions of dollars worth of deals to construct at least 47 major dams in 27 countries, including Sudan and Myanmar, nations criticized for human-rights abuses and poor environmental track records. (WSJ – Subscription required)

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