Dams and Landslides

Three Gorges dam project is like ‘the Emperor’s New Clothes’

by Wang Weiluo, Epoch Times

October 2, 2006

Author’s note: In 1986, The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee and China’s State Council commissioned a feasibility study for the Three Gorges Dam (TGD) project. Professor Huang Wanli, a hydrologist from Tsinghua University was not one of the 412 experts involved in the study. There were reasons for this snub; Professor Huang had previously opposed the construction of the Sanmenxi Dam on the Yellow River. After the Sanmenxi Dam was completed, it failed to perform as expected, just as Professor Huang had predicted.

Given that Professor Huang was excluded from the TGD planning group, no mainland media dared to publish his articles that were disapproving of the TGD project. Consequently, Professor Huang repeatedly wrote letters to Jiang Zemin (the CCP leader at that time) and the CCP Central Politburo, requesting open discussions about the TGD project. He also asked the top leaders to give him 30 minutes in which to explain why they should “never dam the Three Gorges.”

In the last stage of his life, Professor Huang often told his children and friends, “I foresee a terrible outcome for the TGD. You will witness it; remember to watch what happens for me; I hope that my predictions are wrong, otherwise the losses will be huge.”

All the Leaders Were Missing!

On May 20, 2006, the main section of the world’s largest hydroelectric dam was completed but not a single communist regime leader showed up at the “Hallmark Dam Completion Ceremony.” Even former Chinese Premier Li Peng, who favored the project, was absent. The ceremony only lasted eight minutes and China Central TV (CCTV) did not carry a live report of the event. Because the current political climate in China has not changed much since the Cultural Revolution, everything is clandestine. The absence of leaders at the ceremony conveys a negative signal to the people. It shows that the future of the project is in jeopardy. But the mainland media tried their best to turn “a bad thing into a good thing.”

The Southern China Commentary said the leaders set a good example by not attending the completion ceremony of such an important construction milestone, “It is a project watched by the whole world and is a momentous event for our nation. It is commonly understood that people would expect our nation’s leaders to attend the completion ceremony, but on the contrary, our leaders did not attend this event to demonstrate to the people that the Party and the government are maintaining a “feet-on-the-ground” (practical) work ethic. This also sets a good example for government officials at all levels.” The Southern China Commentary also stated that the leaders sent a signal to all officials to concentrate on their jobs, and not pursue public recognition.

This explanation sounds reasonable and agrees with the “close to the people” policy instigated by Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao at the beginning of their terms in office. In contrast, one month later Hu Jintao led a large group of Central Government delegates attending the opening ceremonies of the Tibet Railway. Hu also delivered a speech, praised the railway’s “magnificent purpose,” and watched the first group of tourists board the train. CCTV carried a full day of live coverage of the event.

The China Three Gorges Project Corporation (CTGPC) justified the simplicity of the ceremony by saying that it saved about three million yuan (approximately US$37,000). But this explanation does not align with CTGPC past practices.

On December 14, 1994, a grand opening ceremony was held for the TGD project. Former Chinese Premier Li Peng delivered a speech entitled, “Achievements for Today, Benefits for a Thousand Years.”

On November 8, 1997, a grand ceremony was held to celebrate the transition of the project into the phase of blocking the river; both Jiang Zemin and Li Peng attended the ceremony, and Jiang delivered a speech.

On June 16, 2003, the Deputy Premier Zeng Peiyan attended the ceremony for the initial operation of the lock system. Editor’s note: After the dam was built, a series of five locks are used to move ships through the dam, which requires a lot of time, and also greatly reduces the Yangtze River’s cargo-carrying capacity.

CCTV aired at least five hours of live broadcasting of the above three events.

Even at the end of 2005, CTGPC organized an opening ceremony for Three Gorges Park and invited former Premier Li Peng and his wife to place a stone inscribed with a poem written by Peng.

In August 2006, The Selected Works of Jiang Zemin was published. Interestingly, many of his “important” speeches regarding the TGD project were not included in the book. Why have the “politicians” lost their passion for this giant project? Why do the “politicians” shun this project now?

The Three Gorges Dam Is Like the “Emperor’s New Clothes”.

The TGD is the “new clothes” that the two scoundrels in the fable presented to the emperor. The TGD was predicted to have many wonderful benefits, as stated below:

“The TGD project will upgrade the flood-prevention capability of the regions downstream on the Yangtze River. It guarantees the safety of the Jingjiang area even if unprecedented large scale flooding occurs.”

“Electricity generated by the TGD project will light up half of China!”

“The Project will enable ships with 10,000 ton cargo capacity to go directly from Shanghai to Chongqing.”

“The project will increase the upstream one-way shipping capacity to 50 million tons per year.”

“People in Beijing will be able to drink water from the Yangtze River because of this project.”

“The project creates the opportunity for millions of refugees to become rich.” (Many people had to be relocated and have ended up as environmental refugees because of the TGD project).

“The project will help develop tourism in the Three Gorges area.” “The project will promote economic development along the Yangtze River.”

And much more……

One of the two “scoundrels” in this story is the Ministry of Water Resources and the other is the Yangtze River Water Resource Conservancy Committee. Just as in the fable, it takes a lot of gold to have the clothes made. The emperor siphoned off money from the people and gave it to the two scoundrels.

The Arrival of Summer

What wasn’t told in the story? Not only did the two scoundrels work night and day, but they also invited many experts from all over the world to substantiate the ‘clothes’ as being a rare treasure. The original story omitted one more detail. It was summertime when the new clothes were finished. The emperor felt nice and cool adorned in his new clothes, and he was excited to see tens of thousands of eulogies and tens of thousands of people cheering for him in his new finery, so he proclaimed, “I have accomplished a great achievement that can last thousands of years.”

People wondered why no one pointed out that the emperor was naked. And, where was the small boy in the story who pointed out that the emperor had nothing on?

Professor Huang Wanli is the small boy in this story. He clearly made his point that the TGD should never be built. Although the failure of the CCP’s Yellow River Sanmenxia Dam project had proven Professor Huang’s predictions to be correct, he was still excluded from the feasibility study of the TGD project. Newspapers and magazines in China dared not publish Professor Huang’s opinion on the TGD project.

Professor Huang’s article was eventually published in Contemporary China Studies magazine at Princeton in the United States. Thus, his message that “The emperor is naked” was never heard in China.

On numerous occasions after 1992, Professor Huang wrote to Jiang Zemin and the CCP Central Committee Politburo stating why he believed that the TGD should not be built and requesting that input from the public about the feasibility of the project be allowed.

On November 14, 1992, Professor Huang wrote in a letter, “The TGD should never be built. It’s not a matter of building it now or later, or a matter of the country’s financial situation. It is not a simple matter of ecology, flood prevention, economic development, or national defense. The physical condition of the evolving Yangtze River riverbed and the river’s current economic value will not allow the existence of this dam. A democratic government that respects science will not initiate this disastrous project. If the dam is built, eventually, it will have to be destroyed. The published feasibility studies of the project were full of mistakes and must be re-evaluated. I suggest terminating all preparatory work immediately before it is too late. The right decision is not difficult to make, please allow public discussion of this issue either in person before a panel or submitted in writing.”

Professor Huang continued to point out in another letter written on June 14, 1993, “If a river runs through gorges with little farmland along its banks and no shipping traffic, for example the Dadu River, then a dam can be built on it to generate hydroelectricity. Although the Dadu River reservoir is currently full of sand and gravel and has lost its capacity for flood control, it can still generate power because the river drops in elevation. However, the Yangtze River near the Three Gorges area, is quite different. This river is upstream (upper half) of the Golden river waterway—four of its large tributaries bring a great deal of sand and gravel through the gorges. After the reservoir retains water, the silt will fill Chongqing Harbor raising the riverbed and also the flood level. The floodwaters will destroy the farmlands. That area has vast water resources with over 100 million residents, and it has a severe shortage of farmland. One should never build a dam on a river with terrain like this—never build a huge dam in the Three Gorges area.”

But, Jiang Zemin and the CCP Central Committee Politburo ignored Professor Huang’s warning. At the end of his June 14, 1993 letter, Huang said, “I have not received any replies from the authorities, and the project is about to start. With no hope that things will change at the last minute, I have no choice but to reveal this case to the world and hope that this move can halt a disaster.” Professor Huang died on Aug 27, 2001. He left his children copies of his letters to Jiang and the Central Politburo. He specifically told his children to publish the letters after the project is completed in 2010 to prove his assumptions were correct.

The Arrival of Autumn

In 1992, the National People’s Congress voted to proceed with the construction of the TGD, and the project officially began in December 1994. By June 2003 the Three Gorges Reservoir began to fill. The shipping locks began operational testing later and the first turbine unit started generating electricity.

On May 20, 2006, the TGD was completed, and by then, Professor Huang had already passed away.

I now wish to convey to Professor Huang, “Fall is coming and the weather is cooling down. The Emperor is starting to feel the chill.”

First, after the TGD filled with water, the water released downstream caused many landslides along the Yangtze River’s main banks.

Editor’s Note: After the water collected from upstream enters into the reservoir, the sand and gravel carried by the upstream flow settles on the reservoir bed because of the dramatic reduction in the flow velocity. So the water coming out of the reservoir gate contains less silt compared to the upstream water. Usually, as the water flows through, the sand and gravel carried by the water are deposited in the river bed and on the sides of the river banks, and the water also picks up sand and gravel from the riverbanks and river bed. However, when the water carries less sand and gravel, the erosion effect is greater than the deposition effect, and ultimately weakens the riverbanks. Similar phenomena happened with the Sanmenxia Dam on the Yellow River and caused catastrophic results.

In winter 2004, landslides occurred along the riverbanks in the Jingjiang area. In the Yueyang area, a serious riverbank landslide occurred in spring 2006, and the head of the Hunan Water Resources Bureau rushed to Beijing to report the disaster.

For one thousand years, the main banks of the Yangtze River have protected the residents from the middle reaches to the lower reaches of the river. The 1998 flood forced the Central Government to reinforce the riverbanks at a cost of several hundred billion yuan, which added to the national debt.

The riverbank landslide problems caused by the TGD are very similar to those that occurred when the construction of the Sanmen Gorge Dam on the Yellow River was completed. In 1962, the Sanmenxia Dam released silt-free water causing a huge landslide along the banks of the Yellow River. At the time, the Central Committee of the CCP had to hold a Central Working Meeting to discuss the issues. They decided to change modify the operation. Professor Huang said, “The tide of “clean” water produces an ongoing emergency.” The landslides along the Yangtze River create social instability, so the Emperor wearing his new clothes cannot sleep well now.

Second, the water levels in the TGD impede the shipping traffic along the Yangtze River. The Three Gorges project cannot guarantee that 10,000 ton ships can travel directly to Chongqing City, except for five or six months a year at best, even though the “ship” now comprises four to six tugboats with barges or smaller ships tied together (not a single 10,000 ton capacity ship). After the TGD started to fill with water, the shipping potential of the locks immediately reached capacity. Tests have shown that the one-way traffic capability can only peak at 30 million tons a year, not the 50 million tons predicted. Currently, shipping along the Yangtze River has to rely on motor cargo transport between the lower level and upper level of the dam.

Editor’s Note: This means that the cargo from the ship on the low-water side of the dam must be unloaded, put on trucks, then loaded onto a ship on the upper side of the dam, and vice versa .

A ship elevator, originally scheduled to be completed in 1997, is still not operational. The average time required for each ship to pass through the locks is seven hours, which is unbearable for passengers, and will mean a reduction in passengers traffic, and thereby a reduction in the number of tourists.

Third, since construction began on the TGD, the Three Gorges area has become the most socially unstable region in China. Immigrants are dissatisfied with the resettlement plan and their appeal cases number up to eighty thousand a year, year-in and year-out, without end. The so-called exploratory immigration did not enable millions of migrants to become rich; actually, most of them became poorer.

Those in charge of the immigrant appeals used “the three lows” and “the three no’s” to describe the situation. “The three lows” refers to “their incomes are lower than before immigration, their incomes are lower than the farmers’ in the resettled area, and the living standard is lower than the poorest level in the resettled area.” “The three no’s” means “no farmland, no work, and no way to make living.” The immigration issue is like a ticking time bomb ready to explode at any moment.

Fourth, as of the beginning of 2006, the approved 1.13 million immigrants had settled into their new homes. All of the 40 billion yuan (US$ 5 billion) relocation fund was used up, leaving no money for several hundred thousand people who still needed to move. The previous relocation caused many problems, and made new relocation much more difficult.

Specifically, the reservoir water level of the TGD is not level as predicted in the original project plan. According to recently released measurements, the water level is inclined at a gradient of 0.5/10000, and at the current speed of sand and gravel sedimentation, it will exceed 0.7/10000, which is equivalent to a seven-meter water level difference every hundred kilometers. Many of the new migrant towns will be flooded, as will parts of Chongqing City such as the Chaotianmen Harbor and other new buildings.

Fifth, the proposed water and sediment regulation will not solve the problem of silt build up inside the reservoir. Although the Central Government has built and will build dams upstream on the Jialing and Jinsha Rivers to impede sand and gravel from entering the TGD, this is not a final solution, but merely postponing an impending disaster, which in turn, will create a more serious problem for the next generation.

Once the water starts to fill the TGD, about 80 percent of the sediment will be trapped, mainly at the upper end of the reservoir. In the Yellow River, fine sand is dominant and certain measures can reduce the buildup of the sediment layer. The sedimentary flow from the upper Yangtze River brings viscous, red-soil particles, which mix with coarse sand and gravel to form a hard sedimentary layer. Thus, the sedimentation of Chongqing Harbor is inevitable. The Chongqing government has planned to move Chongiqng Harbor either to the upper reaches of Chuntan or the lower reaches of Wanzhou.

Sixth, after the TGD began filling with water, the water flow slowed and its self-cleaning ability was greatly reduced. The water quality in turn became poorer, particularly in the tributaries where the water quality had been quite good. During the feasibility study period of the TGD project, the water quality in the Three Gorges region was China’s “best” and rated at level two in most of the river’s sections.

Currently, the water quality has dropped to the equivalent of level four, based on the previous standard. Due to the poor water quality, the cities, districts, and counties in the Three Gorges vicinity cannot use the reservoir as a source of drinking water and have had to find other sources.

Seventh, the TGD project failed to supply half of the country’s power needs. In actuality, the dam contributed less than three percent of China’s total power generation. The dam did not provide residents with “cheap electricity” either. The public bore the financial burden, while the profits from the economic reforms were redirected to the interest groups. This project is a good example of how things work in China.

Eighth, one of the prerequisites for the TGD project to make economic gains is predicting the weather correctly. After three years of operation, the project has revealed that the present science and forecasting technology cannot accurately predict the weather – either long or short-term.

In fall 2004, the dispatch system of the Three Gorges made a mistake. In order to guarantee the operation of the hydroelectric station, the water was retained during the wet season; but this caused flooding in the upper reaches of the river in Kaixian and Wanzhou. In summer 2006, the dispatch problem happened again. The certainty of drought was looming for Chongqing, but the reservoir still discharged high volumes of floodwaters. This emptied the reservoir and worsened the drought situation in Chongqing.

Ninth, since water retention began, the frequency of earthquakes in the Three Gorges region has risen sharply. At present, no destructive earthquake has occurred, but experts think that a magnitude 6 or 6.5 earthquake might occur in the future. Structures in the Three Gorges area, especially new residential buildings, were not designed to withstand earthquakes. A magnitude 6 or 6.5 earthquake would cause a catastrophe.

In the TGD feasibility study, it stated that landslides might happen in over 150 areas. But when the reservoir water level reached 135 meters, landslides occurred in 1500 areas—ten times as many as predicted in the report. Facing erosion by the water, the ancient town of Baidi at the foot of the mountain is in danger of landslides. Right now, 130 to 180 meter-high concrete retaining walls have been built in Baidi town to prevent landslides. However, the barriers have ruined the town’s landscape.

Tenth, the reservoir enables swamp fever parasites to spread from Hunan and Hubei provinces, where the disease is prevalent, to Chongqing and Sichuan Province where no occurrence of the parasite existed before.

Eleven, the negative sequelae exceed the original estimations in size and scope. According to a survey conducted by Taiwan, the TGD project will affect the fishing industries along the coast of the Eastern China Sea around Taiwan. This type of research is forbidden in mainland China.

Twelve, based on the current design, the TGD project cannot provide enough water from the Yangtze River for Beijing. For Beijing to make use of the reservoir water, it would be necessary to raise the height of the dam, rebuild pump stations, or dig a new canal. This would cost as much as constructing another Three Georges dam.

Waiting for Winter to Come

After three years of operation, indications are that the problems predicted by Professor Huang have surfaced one after another. The king feels cold now, but continues to give the two scoundrels money and hopes they can develop some new functions for the clothes to keep him warm or at least protect him from catching a cold. But the problems become worse and more obvious as time goes on. As the sediment in the reservoir continues to rise, so does the water level.

Take a look at the example of the dam hindering shipping traffic along the river. Two years after late 2006, ship lock operations will be intermittent because of their planned reconstruction. Also, the reconstruction will not improve the shipping capacity of the dam. In addition, the problem of sedimentation and the expanding inundated areas will become more serious and cannot be corrected. To make the water storage level constant, parts of the Chongqing urban districts will have to be abandoned and their residents will need to be moved.

As a geological disaster, the worst calamity might occur if a storm, flood, earthquake, and landslide happened simultaneously. Right now, the king in his new clothes might feel a little bit colder and keep a certain distance from the Three Gorges project, trying not to let others notice his change of heart. But winter is setting in, and the king will cry aloud because of the cold.

It is impossible to hide the truth forever. As for the consequences of the TGD project, Professor Huang said, “If the Three Gorges Dam is allowed to be built, it will eventually have to be blown up.”

Before winter comes, we will keep an eye on the dam for you Professor Huang. May your soul rest in peace.

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