Three Gorges Probe

Chinese gov’t response to Three Gorges dam petition

Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, the Correspondence Bureau of the State Council
April 17, 2000
Official Response to Experts’ Three Gorges Dam Petition

To: Lu Qinkan and 53 specialists

From: Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, Correspondence Bureau of the State Council

Recently, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the Correspondence Bureau of the State Council forwarded your letter of March 3, 2000, entitled “Urgent Appeal That the Three Gorges Project Be Operated in Line with the National People’s Congress Bill,” addressed to Jiang Zemin, Li Peng, Zhu Rongji and Li Ruihuan. After discussing  the letter with specialists in related fields, we have composed this reply in the hopes of earning your understanding and support.

1. The current design complies with the construction plan approved by the National People’s Congress (NPC)

In regard to your comment: ‚Äòthe 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 of 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.’

We would like to submit the following explanation:

The Three Gorges construction plan has been studied and discussed repeatedly ever since the 1950s. In the second study of the proposed facility, in the mid-1980s, project-related opinions were summarized under six dam options, including options for a 150-, 160-, and 179-metre high dams. In 1992, the NPC approved a plan for construction of a 185-metre high dam, initially with a normal water level of 156 metres that would eventually be increased to 175 metres.

The design and construction of the Three Gorges project complies with this resolution. Eleven years after the start of the project’s preparation phase, the dam’s initial water level will be 135 metres and will rise to 156 metres by the middle of the fifteenth year. The water level will eventually reach 175 metres which, as specified in the design plan, is estimated to be the dam’s normal storage capacity.

At present, all work on the dam ‚Äì including construction, resettlement, silt surveys and monitoring ‚Äì is being carried out in accordance with the NPC resolution. Once the initial water level reaches 156 metres, we will begin monitoring the situation ‚Äì should any problems arise, we will provide timely solutions. We will probably extend the period of operation under the initial water level although the objective is to raise the water level to 175 metres without delay in order to make the most of the Three Gorges project’s benefits in flood-control, power production, and navigation. We think this initiative will prove to be the most effective. In 1998, when the Yangtze Valley was hit by disastrous flooding the Chinese Communist Party, local governments, and Chinese people all expected that the Three Gorges project, if completed, would have been able to control the floodwaters. We believe it is our shared responsibility to create the most favourable conditions possible and reduce constraints so that the project is completed and is able to meet this great expectation.

As for the book mentioned in your letter “The Three Gorges Project That Attracts Worldwide Attention” by Xinxing Publishing House, our inquiries indicate that the 2009 project completion date and the 175-metre normal water level in 2009 quoted in the book were not contributed by our office or our design agencies. As previously stated, our construction arrangements have been implemented in accordance with the NPC resolution and are based on the design documents approved by the State Council. The dam’s design will not be influenced by mass-media publications.

2. The problem of siltation could be solved

Your letter raises the issue of siltation: This issue has been studied comprehensively since the 1950s. Taking the Sanmenxia project into account, examination of siltation at Three Gorges has been based on field surveys and a number of thoroughly researched mathematic and engineering models. The data and research findings have been verified and provide a reliable reference for decision-making.

This is the State Council’s conclusion: Following a series of studies, the siltation issue in relation to the Three Gorges project is clearly understood ‚Äì negative impacts caused by siltation could be prevented by certain measures. We believe the problem can be solved. However, in the interests of caution, in 1993 the Three Gorges Construction Committee (TGCC) set up a siltation study group which has been conducting research and experiments ever since.

3. The Three Gorges project has seriously taken into account the lessons learned from the Sanmenxia and Gezhouba projects

A total of 412 specialists participated in the Three Gorges project feasibility study. The specialists’ combined experience and expertise contributed to the project’s scientific, democratic and cautious decision-making process.

As mentioned, in regard to the siltation issue, the Sanmenxia Dam was taken into consideration when plans for the design and management of Three Gorges’ got underway ‚Äì although, it should be noted that the two rivers possess different volumes of water and silt. One of Sanmenxia’s major problems was caused by over-optimistic calculations concerning soil protection at the upper reaches of the Yellow River; as a result, the amount of silt flowing into the dam’s reservoir was underestimated. Another lesson learned from the Sanmenxia experience was that a high water level was unable to flush silt in reservoirs with significant silt content. The third related to the silt deposit at the tail of the Sanmenxia reservoir. All of these problems have been dealt with in the Three Gorges project.

As for the Gezhouba project, there were more factors involved here besides siltation and navigation. Several remedial measures were adopted to help the situation and since the Gezhouba began operation in 1982, it has functioned well in terms of safe navigation and cargo transportation.

4. The current design complies with the requirements for the initial water filling and the bottom diversion tunnels could be sealed

5. The ecology

Your letter claims that if the reservoir was filled with 175 metres of water, the water level would be more than 10 metres higher than the natural level of the Yangtze River at Chongqing, thus all the discharge outlets would be submerged. The fact is, the reservoir’s flood-control water level is below the 145-metre mark in the flooding season and, therefore, corresponds to the natural water level of the Yangtze River at Chongqing. The reservoir restoring period is at the end of October and the water level could rise to 175 metres ‚Äì five to 10 metres higher than the natural river level during the dry season. The data collected by the Yangtze River Committee indicates that the flood water level in Chongqing (calculated at once in every five years) would be 185.9 metres, which means the rise of reservoir water in the dry season would not result in discharge difficulty. Survey data from the 1990s showed that a number of major sewage discharge outlets in Chongqing municipality were higher than 180 metres, meaning not all the discharge outlets would be submerged by the Three Gorges reservoir.

Some renovation projects have also been undertaken to increase the level of major sewage discharge pipes.

The State Council has paid great attention to the water quality of the Three Gorges reservoir. It approved several wastewater treatment projects last year. It has made the Three Gorges reservoir one of the country’s major water pollution control areas.

The government has also implemented several projects to prevent soil erosion at the upper reaches of the Yangtze River.

6. Resettlement has to be based on the 1992 resolution

The letter suggests that the resettlement project be changed from “continuous resettlement” to “resettlement by various phases.”

We think that the principle of “continuous resettlement” approved by the 1992 resolution has to be observed. For the last few years, the resettlement project has followed this principle closely.

The “resettlement by various phases” is impractical. Different from other dam-related resettlement projects, Three Gorges resettlement involves a smaller percentage of rural resettlement. The funding for rural resettlement accounts for only 17 percent of the total resettlement cost. Urban resettlement (including relocations of cities, county seats, and townships) account for 35 percent, industrial relocation 19 percent, and utilities/facilities 11 percent. The latter three categories account for 64 percent of the total resettlement fund and are the major components of the resettlement.

Our practice indicates that it takes about five to six years to build a new country seat and two to four years for new townships. Therefore, the “continuous resettlement” plan is the only practical way to settle the displaced population. Based on resettlement experiments between 1985 and 1992, the good experience with first steps is summarized as follows:

*  in rural resettlement, the first step is to reclaim and upgrade land;
*  in city/township resettlement, the first step is to build infrastructure;
*  in utilities/facilities reconstruction, the first step is to focus on roads, power, and communication facilities.

Therefore, the resettlement project needs an extended period of time prior to the relocation of the people for infrastructure construction, which is possible only if we carry out the “continuous resettlement.” We’ve noted that local resettlement offices all require that resettlement in the Three Gorges project area be completed by 2009. We appreciate the enthusiasm of the local governments in speeding up resettlement, however, this does not mean that the reservoir will be filled to the 175-metre level by 2009.

Quite certainly, the environmental capacity in the Three Gorges project area is not adequate to absorb the entire displaced population. As Premier Zhu Rongji pointed out in May 1999, resettlement has to consist of local and distance resettlement as well as state-organized resettlement and individual resettlement. More people should be encouraged to move out of the region. This policy has achieved some progress in the past year with support from over 11 provinces and cities in the lower Yangtze river region. This policy is important for protecting the region’s environment.

In sum, we believe that we have been consistently carrying out the Three Gorges project in accordance with the 1992 resolution and have made gratifying achievement. We believe that with the correct leadership of the Central Party Committee and the State Council, with the support from Chinese people all over the country, the Three Gorges project will be successfully completed and will bring about tremendous benefits in flood control, power generation, and navigation.

Your letter also mentions that Lu Qinkan and 53 other specialists sent a similar letter in March 1998 and March 1999. We wrote our reply on April 21, 1998 and June 16, 1999, respectively, and presented them to the central government. This reply also covers the content of our previous two responses.

The CCP’s Central Committee and the State Council have taken a very active, yet, very cautious attitude towards the Three Gorges project. Since the 1950s, thanks to the direct concerns of Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and other veteran revolutionary leaders, the project’s scientists and engineers have undertaken extensive research, conducted surveys and have experimented with and studied a number of designs. After the State Council approved the Three Gorges plan for a 150-metre dam in 1984, a variety of points and suggestions were raised by local governments and the general public and were given serious consideration. In 1986, a request that the Ministry of Water and Electric Power conduct another feasibility study composed of 412 experts from around the country, was granted. Over the years, 300 organizations, 3,200 scientists, and engineers nationwide have contributed to 45 issues outlined in the feasibility study, which was completed in 1989. In July 1990, the State Council established a Three Gorges review committee consisting of 163 experts spread over 10 review groups to carefully assess the study’s various opinions and questions relating to the project. In August 1991, the review committee unanimously approved the study’s finding that the project was necessary, technologically feasible, and economically reasonable. The committee recommended that the State Council make its decision and have it approved by the National People’s Congress as soon as possible – the seventh NPC passed the resolution to go ahead with the Three Gorges Dam on April 3, 1992. The project’s preliminary studies and preparations and the amount of time and expertise this entailed, is more exhaustive and in-depth than any other such project before it, and ensures the resulting resolution passed by the NPC – the principle guideline governing the project – will produce an excellent outcome.

Under the leadership of the Central Committee and the State Council, preparation work on the dam began in 1993 and construction officially commenced in December 1999. The project is progressing smoothly.

As stated earlier, we have always taken opinions and suggestions related to the project into account, and have tried to incorporate the more useful recommendations. Although we have not accepted all the suggestions made, we have afforded them serious consideration and view them as incentives to proceed carefully with the project to ensure against mistakes. The dam’s builders are fully aware that any error would damage the reputation of the project, and our national image as well. We must heed the instruction of the late Premier Zhou Enlai to work cautiously, as though we were walking along the edge of a cliff or walking on thin ice. We will handle all matters related to the Three Gorges Dam with great care and earnestness to ensure the project’s success.

Thank you for your concern and for your support of the project.

Three Gorges Construction Committee

cc: Wen Jiabao, Deputy Premier, Member of the Standing Committee of Politburo, Member of the Three Gorges Construction Committee

The Letters Bureau of the Central Committee and State Council

Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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