Dams and Landslides

Three Gorges petition

by 53 Chinese experts
submitted to Chinese officials
March 3, 2000

53 Chinese experts endorsed this petition and submitted it to Chinese officials on March 3, 2000. Probe International translated this appeal and released it in English in Three Gorges Probe, Issue #17, the following month. Recently, the appeal has received considerable media attention and a reply by the Chinese authorities.

Urgent appeal that the Three Gorges project should be operated at the initial retained water level of 156 metres in line with the National People’s Congress’s resolution in order to evaluate silt deposit and to reduce resettlement pressure

Jiang Zemin, President of PRC
Li Peng, Chairman of NPC
Zhu Rongji, Premier
Li Ruihuan, Chairman of CPCC

The summary: the Three Gorges Project Resolution submitted to NPC by the State Council in 1992 states that the project should be operated “at the initial stage at the retained water level of 156 metres in order to proceed with resettlement plans and to evaluate the actual impacts of silt deposit on the navigation route and port at the tail of the reservoir.” However, this condition of the resolution has been ignored by the Three Gorges project. The feasibility study of 1987 suggested that the retaining period at the initial stage be as long as 10 years. In the 1989 study, this period was reduced to four years. The 1992 study planned to block seal the diversion bottom outlets in 1993 and to build a spillway dam as high as 158 metres. However, the book entitled The Three Gorges Project That Attracts Worldwide Attention published in 1997, said that “the project would be completed in 2009 with a retained water level of 175.”

The book didn’t mention the initial stage of water storage level. As the issue concerning the serious problems of silt deposit in the Three Gorges reservoir and the difficulties of massive resettlement, this letter was presented to call for the earnest implementation of the 1992 resolution in regard to the retaining water level at the initial stage.

With respect to the major problems in the Three Gorges project, 24 seriously concerned specialists submitted a written statement to the higher authority in March 1998 entitled “Suggestions on the Three Gorges project be built to the initial stage of retained water level for the observation silts buildup and the reduction of resettlement tasks.” In March 1999, they submitted another letter: “Second appeal for Three Gorges project to respect the initial stage of water level to reduce the problems of silt deposit on the navigating routes and massive resettlement.” However, it is very regretful that no reply was given to these letters of appeals. Now, the megadam is at its massive concrete pouring stage and diversion bottom outlets are soon going to be sealed, 53 of us are urgently appealing that the Three Gorges project be carried out in line with NPC’s 1992 resolution and respect the 156 metres for the initial level of water storage.

The normal level of water storage is a crucial issue in the Three Gorges project, which has not been verified. The feasibility study took account of many concerns and decided to set the final water retaining level at 175 metres, but with several phases of water storage. The 156 metres is set as the initial water level.

1. Problems in the plan with the 175-metre final water level

a) Silt deposit problem
The Three Gorges project plans to “retain clear water to flush out silt,” which means the dam would retain “clear water” during non-flooding season and flush out the “silted water” in the flooding season. The high-water level plans such as the 175-metre plan and the 185-metre plan would create silt problems for Chongqing, including its port, and junction area with Jialing River. After the two dams, Xiluodu dam and Xiang Jiaba dam, at the upper reaches of the Jinsha River are built, 53% of the silt could be controlled. However, there would be still 47% of the silt coming down the river. The most serious situation being that bigger sands would deposit at the tail of the Three Gorges reservoir.

When Three Gorges dam is needed to retain floodwater in the Yangtze River, the silt problem will become more serious.

The Beijing Water Institute has done a simulating model of silt deposit in flood season based on the 175-metre dam in the 1954 floods of the Yangtze River. The experiment model showed that the largest wharf in Chongqing, the Jiulongpo section, would basically be silted up. And such silt buildup could not be completely cleared by two years of flushing water. A serious and large-scale silt deposit would also occur at the Chaotianmen wharf that would pose a serious problem for navigation.

The 1998 floods of the Yangtze River carried more silt than in 1954 and the flood peak volume was larger than the one in 1870. If similar floods occur, and the Three Gorges reservoir is 175 metres high, there would be more serious problems of siltation in the port of Chongqing and the joint section of Jialing River and the Yangtze River.

The late premier Zhou Enlai warned in 1971 at the meeting on the Gezhouba dam project that “The Changjiang River is a big river, and there can’t be anything wrong with it. If the shipping has been blocked, the dam will have to be dismantled, and that is a serious crime, and that is not the same with the Yellow River as it is not opened to navigation.” In 1972, Zhou said it again: “If anything goes wrong with the Changjiang River, the penalty of chopping heads of those responsible could not be enough. This is an issue of international image, and should be included in our Party’s history.”

b) Resettlement issue

The 175 metre water level plan would require 1.13 million people to relocate, which does not include those who would be affected by the rising water level caused by constant siltation. It is estimated that siltation-related resettlers would be about 300,000 in 20 years. The more silt deposit, the higher the resettlement compensation.

The resettlement feasibility report of the Three Gorges project states that “all counties [cities] which have land to be submerged by the Three Gorges project have a potential to resettle their own displaced people based on studies of environmental capacities of the Three Gorges reservoir areas.” However, the resettlement practice fully demonstrated that the farmland in the Three Gorges areas is seriously scarce and the need for local environmental protection has become so urgent. The government now has to relocate 125,000 people out of the Three Gorges areas to other provinces and municipalities, and such moves will certainly increase the cost of resettlement and make it even more difficult to carry out.

c) Ecological and environmental issues

If the Three Gorges reservoir has a retained water level of 175 metres, it would be over 10 metres higher than the natural Yangtze water level in Chongqing city proper. Therefore, all the drainage outlets would be submerged. This would reduce the draining speed of city sewage and make it more difficult to dilute the city’s wastewater. Additionally, there would be more landslides and more submersions of cultural relics and historic sites.

There would be increasing problems of soil erosion due to the extensive development projects in the areas, including new towns, factories, roads, reclamation of farmland and so on.

2. The plan of the initial stage of 156 metres of water storage

The Three Gorges project feasibility study states, “taking into account to reduce the resettlement pressure and to have a period of monitoring and assessment of silt deposit in the Three Gorges reservoir, and to make the project start generating electricity early and lighten the nation’s financial burden,” the water should be retained by stages, the initial water level should be 156 metres. The State Council report to the NPC also stated that the project would follow the “156 metre water storage level at the initial stage.”

a) Silt deposit issue

The feasibility study states that “the siltation problem would be fairly clearer to detect. The backwater would only reach the mouth of the Tongluo Gorge so that Chongqing port and Jialing River’s mouth would not be affected by the siltation.

b) Resettlement issue

The number of relocation population under the 156 metre plan would be only 54% of the 175-metre plan. That means that there would be 520,000 people who would not have to be relocated.

c) Ecological and environmental issues

Under the 156 metre plan, the backwater of the Three Gorges reservoir is below the mouth of the Jialing River. Therefore, the river in Chongqing remains in its natural condition, with no impact on its drainage system.

There would be less impact on landslide, fewer cultural relics and historic sites to be submerged and reduced influences on ecology and environment as fewer development projects of new towns, factories, roads and reclamation of farmland.

3. The current construction plan does not meet the requirement for the initial water storage level of 156 metres

In 1987, at the Fourth Conference of the Leading Group of the Three Gorges Project Feasibility Study, Qian Zhengying, the group leader, said, “the interval period between the initial stage and the final stage covers about 10 years.” The Three Gorges feasibility study by the Changjiang office in 1989 stated that “the project plans to raise the water level to 156 metres between the 17th year and the 20th year after the project is commenced. The water level would raise to 175 metres by the 21st year.”

In the book The Three Gorges Project That Attracts Worldwide Attention by the Xinxing Publishing House, 1997, it was stated that “the project would be completed in 2009 when the normal water storage level would reach 175 metres.” It also said that the project would achieve its designed production capacity in 2009 by generating 84.7 billion killowatt-hours a year (this output is calculated based on the 175 metre capacity.) The electricity output plan was also calculated on this premise, making no reference to the initial stage of the 156 metre water retaining level.

In the construction schedule of the Three Gorges feasibility study in 1992, 22 diversion bottom outlets in the lower level would be sealed completely by concrete cement between 2003 and 2005. The temporary overflowing notch would be raised from 109 metres to 158 metres between 2005 and 2007. The construction plan also would significantly reduce the capacities of flood water releasing and silt flushing at the 135 metres and the 156 metres of the initial water storage stage. Such construction plan would not conform to the NPC’s 1992 resolution on the Three Gorges project.

4. Lessons from the Sanmenxia project in the Yellow River should be learned

The Sanmenxia project was the first and the most important project in the comprehensive control and management programme of the Yellow River. It was designed to solve the problems of flood control, irrigation, navigation, and electricity production in a single project. It was approved by the second plenary session of the first NPC assembly in 1955.

In a meeting on the design of the Sanmenxia project in 1957, Wang Wanli, professor at the Qinghua University, Wen Shanzhang, technician with the Hydroelectric Bureau, and Ye Yongyi of Water Science Institute raised the issue of lowering the water level and using the bottom outlets to release floodwater and silt. However, their suggestions were dismissed. The Sanmenxia dam was completed in 1960 and started retaining water. Very soon after, it was discovered that siltation in the reservoir built up rapidly and expanded to the upper reaches of the river, even threatened Xian city. Then premier Zhou Enlai chaired special meetings to listen to various opinions. The final decision was to rebuild the dam. Two big tunnels were built beside the dam and four steel diversion pipes were introduced to release floodwater and silt. However, as the tunnels and pipes were still too high to flush out the siltation depositing at the bottom of the reservoir, a second reconstruction was launched. This time, 10 underwater diversion bottom outlets were opened up with great difficulty. At the same time, the incoming water level was reduced to increase the capacity to release silt at a lower water level. By doing so, the silt deposit at the lower reaches of Tongguan would be flushed out. However, some silt deposits such as a 5 metre high siltation at the Tongguan mouth 114 kilometres away from the dam could not be flushed out. Furthermore, siltation continued building up at the upper reaches of Tongguan, causing increased flooding and drought problems.

It is clear that bottom outlets at lower levels are important for flushing silt. It is very difficult to reopen them once they are sealed off. Although the Yangtze River does not carry as much silt as the Yellow River, it still carries about 500 million tons of silt a year. The amount of sand in the Yangtze River is usually bigger than that in the Yellow River and there is more silt and cobbles that are even more difficult to flush away. Moreover, the Three Gorges reservoir is as long as 600 kilometres, much longer than the Sanmenxia reservoir. The silt deposits at the tail of the reservoir would be even more difficult to flush. We hope that the lessons from the Sanmenxia project should prevent any reconstructions once the Three Gorges dam is built.

5. Modify the Three Gorges construction plan to meet the requirement of the 156 metre water level

In order to evaluate the impacts of silt deposits at the reservoir tail area and ports, the Three Gorges project should conform to the initial stage of the 156 metre water level. The period of evaluation should last long enough to cover a year of flooding and should include simulating model studies and other observations to finally decide whether the water level should be raised to 175 metres. It should be avoided that the water level be at 175 metres high without the evaluation and assessment of the initial phase of the 156 water level. Such operation would lead to serious problems of siltation in the Three Gorges reservoir and create disasters such as the blocking of the Yangtze River waterway.

Therefore, the design of the Three Gorges project should take into consideration the requirements of floodwater and silt release at the initial stage. The Sanmenxia project and other reconstructions of dams in silty rivers indicate that bottom outlets in lower levels are functional in draining silt. The Three Gorges project has 22 diversion bottom outlets, each with an opening of 6 metres wide by 8 metres high. Such outlets are important in releasing silty floodwater. Once they are sealed, it would be very difficult to open up. We hope that these outlets should not be sealed by concrete, but with lock gates. When the water level is at 156 metres, the flow peak is 99 to 100 metres. It goes between 118 and 119 metres when the final water level reaches 175 metres. There exists many designs of such lock gates resisting high water pressure.

We also suggest that the temporary overflowing opening be modified from 109 metres to 139 metres and that the initial water retaining level be 156 metres.

The resettlement schedule should also be carried out with the plan of “retaining water by phases.” The resettlement plans should also be by various phases, not be carried out constantly, to reduce the pressure of relocation. A close monitoring and evaluation of silt deposits at the initial stage should be conducted before an unnecessary relocation of people living in the higher levels of the Three Gorges reservoir be carried out.

The success or failure of the Three Gorges project is crucial to our national interests. We appeal to the central authorities to pay close attention to this issue.

March 3, 2000

Mao Zhaoxi, professor at the Zhejiang University, NPC member, ex-CPPCC member
Xu Qiashi, consultant to the Water Bureau of Zhejiang Province, ex-NPC member
Qing Changgeng, expert member of the Surveying Institute of Kunming, ex-NPC member
Xu Zongjun, Professor at the Chongqing University, CPPCC member, ex-NPC member
Lei Hengshun, Professor at the Chongqing University, CPPCC member, ex-NPC member
Jiang Zejia, Professor at the Chongqing University, ex-president, ex-NPC member
Cheng Xuemin, expert with the electricity group of the Three Gorges feasibility study, ex-CPPCC member
Luo Zhewen, senior engineer of the State Cultural Relics Bureau, ex-CPPCC member
Xie Chensheng, ex-consultant to the State Cultural Relics Bureau, ex-CPPCC member
Zhu Zaowen, member of the technical committee of the Surveying Institute of Chengdu, ex-CPPCC member
Wei Yunlong, president of Engineering College of Shantou University, CPPCC member
Zheng Zegen, professor at the Architecture University of Chongqing, CPPCC member
Dou Ruihua, professor at the Communication College of Chongqing, CPPCC member, vice-chairman of Chongqing CPPCC
Li Ming, deputy president at the Teachers University of Southwest, CPPCC member, vice-chairman of Chongqing CPPCC
Liu Huijun, CPPCC member, vice-chairman of Chongqing CPPCC
Yu Ronggen, professor and deputy president of Chongqing Academy of Social Sciences, CPPCC member
Feng Guangrong, professor and president of Sichuan Foreign Languages College, CPPCC member
Chen Jingqiu, professor at the Chongqing University, CPPCC member
Wu Yunhan, vice-chairman of the Democratic Construction Party of Chongqing, CPPCC member
Lu Guoji, president of Minsheng Corporation, CPPCC member
Wu Chuanjun, fellow of China’s Academy of Science, president of the China Society of Geography
Zhang Youshi, PhD, senior researcher and ex-deputy director of the Natural Resources Surveying Committee of China’s Academy of Science
Lei Shuxuan, ex-senior consulting member of the Ministry of Electricity
Weng Changfu, chief engineer and deputy director of the Planning Committee of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, special expert to the Three Gorges Project Reviewing Committee
Huang Jinglue, senior researcher of the China Cultural Relics Institute, head of the expert group of the State Cultural Relics Bureau
Yu Weichao, director of China’s History Museum, head of the Three Gorges project cultural protection group
Ye Yongyi, advisor to China’s Water and Hydroelectric Institute, head of the hydrology group of the Three Gorges project feasibility study
Wen Shanzhang, senior engineer, committee member of the technology group of the Yellow River Water Committee
Tao Wei, consultant to Dongfang Electric Machinery, ex-head and chief engineer
Tian Fang, member of the consulting group to the State Planning Committee, ex-deputy head of the Economic Study Institute
Jin Yongtang, senior engineer of China’s Water and Hydroelectric Institute
Li Changhua, ex-director of River and Port Centre of Nanjing Water Science Institute
Zhang Bingyou, ex-deputy director of Material Structural Group of Nanjing Water Science Institute
Xu Zida, senior engineer of Nanjing Hydrology and Water Resources Institute
Lin Fatang, senior researcher of the Economic Institute of the State Development Planning Committee
Fan Dainian, senior researcher of the Science and Technological Policy and Management Institute of China’s Academy of Science
Lei Guangchun, professor at the Peking University, director of Yangtze Project of World’s Nature Fund
Huang Runhua, Professor of environmental studies at the Peking University
Liu Yukai, ex-deputy chief of the Natural Ecology Department of the State Environmental Protection Bureau
Qi Fudong, senior engineer of Central South Surveying Institute, senior researcher of Central South Machinery Institute
Jin Shaochou, senior lecturer of geography at the No. 3 Teachers College of Beijing
Wang Yunqiu, professor at the Hehai University. Advisor to Jiangsu provincial government
Chen Changdu, professor at the Peking University, expert in the environmental and ecological group of the Three Gorges project feasibility study
Cui Haiting, professor of city and environment at the Peking University
Fang Kaize, senior engineer, professor of civil engineering at the Hehai University
Zhang Erjun, professor at the Hehai University
Yang Keji, professor at the Hehai University
Zhou Qixiang, ex-deputy chief engineer of the Management Department of Nanjing Port
Lou Yuxi, ex-deputy chief engineer at the No. 21 Institute of Xian, No. 14 Institute of Nanjing, the Ministry of Electric Power
Qian Rutai, ex-director engineer of Power Division of Sanmenxia Engineering Bureau of the Yellow River
Zhang Weibang, professor at the Shanxi University, ex-director of geology, head of Shanxi Provincial Society of Geography
Yao Qiming, professor at the Shanxi University, ex-chair of the Department of Geography, Deputy head of Shanxi Provincial Society of Geography

Written and organized by Lu Qinkan, ex-consultant to the flood control group of the Three Gorges project feasibility study, ex-CPPCC member

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