China's Enormous Three Gorges Dam Could End Up Being A Huge Mistake

China Three Gorges

Photo: AP

When the construction of China’s Three Gorges Dam was completed in 2006, most Chinese citizens must have hoped it was worth the huge cost: 1.4 million people had to be relocated from towns, cities, and villages to make way for the enormous structure, which would supplement a hungry China’s growing energy needs.But their prayers have not been answered.

Six years later, the government says a further 100,000 people may be displaced over the next few years, including 20,000 this year alone, because of increasing landslide risks in the area around the dam, Reuters reports. 

The Three Gorges Project is located at Sāndòupíng in the Xilingxia gorge, one of the three gorges on the Yangtze river.


It's one of the biggest hydropower complexes in the world.

The 600-foot high, 1.4 mile-long dam with 386 gates holds a reservoir that's about 400 miles long, and the power generating complex contains 26 turbines.

(Source: The New York Times)

While official estimates put the cost of production at $23 billion, international experts believe it cost more than double that.

(Source: The New York Times)

The project took more than a decade to complete.

It was originally suggested in 1918 by Sun Yat-Sen, but the scheme officially started in 1994 and finished in 2008.

(Source: the BBC)

It serves a purpose, however — The dam generates more than 18,000 MW of power a year.

That's more than eight times the capacity of the U.S.'s Hoover Dam and about three per cent of China's energy needs.

(Source: Scientific American)

Additionally, it's intended to stop the frequent flooding in the region.

(Source: PBS)

The project also increased the amount of cargo transported across the river to 50 million tons, triple the maximum annual amount prior to the dam's construction.

(Source: China Daily)

But the system has had some major problems from the very get go.

About 1.4 million people were displaced when construction began, and 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,350 villages were submerged when the reservoir reached its full capacity of 40 billion cubic meters (1,412.6 billion cubic feet).

(Source: The New York Times)

A further 100,000 will be moved over the next three to five years because of landslides and bank collapses.

(Source: the BBC)

The number of landslides and other natural disasters has increased by 70 per cent since the reservoir filled up in 2010.

The enormous weight of the water in the reservoir, coupled with the rise and fall in its levels depending on the season, has made the banks unstable, according to the BBC.

(Source: AP)

Some say it played a role in the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which killed 87,000 people, though the government denies this.

(Source: AP)

1,300 archaeological sites have also been submerged.

Among those threatened are the irreplaceable remnants of the homeland of the Ba, an ancient people who settled in the region about 4,000 years ago, according to CNN.

(Source: PBS)

The dam may have exacerbated China's 2011 drought.

While there is no concrete evidence, critics say the dam altered regional water tables, which led to residents downstream of Three Gorges losing access to drinking water in the drought from January-April 2011, according to The New York Times. China's Xinhua news agency put the number of those affected at 10 million. It was widely considered the worst drought in 50 years.

(Source: Nature)

The drought negated most of the dam's plus points: ships were stranded and central and eastern China faced a power shortage.

(Source: Nature)

Environmentalists say the reservoir is accumulating silt and waste from cities and industries.

Over 265 billion gallons of raw sewage are dumped into the Yangtze annually, which now collects in the reservoir instead of being flushed downstream and out into the ocean. However, the government insists the new sewage treatment plants have this under control, according to NPR.

(Source: PBS)

The government finally acknowledged the problems in 2011, five years after Three Gorges was built.

The Chinese State Council said it knew about some of the problems even before construction began 17 years ago, while some other issues have arisen since because of 'new demands as the social and economical situation developed'.

But despite this late admission, the plan was always contentious. A third of Chinese MPs voted against the plan or abstained.

(Source: the BBC)

But China still wants to build more dams.

There are plans to build a series of dams on a section of the upper Yangtze which, combined, will have a capacity more than twice that of the Three Gorges Dam. But not only is this region seismically active, the project could deprive Three Gorges of water, according to the AP.

Other plans include possibly building dams along the Nu River and the upper Mekong, which would be fatal to the area's fragile ecosystems and endangered species, Foreign Policy reports.

(Source: Nature)

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