(June 16, 2000) A petition to delay the Three Gorges dam project earlier this year drew a firm response from Chinese leaders, quick to assure critics the scandal-plagued project was “progressing smoothly” and would go ahead as planned.
Fears that officials might raise water levels behind the Three Gorges dam to 175 metres in the sixth year of operation to maximize power output, prompted 53 Chinese senior engineers and academics to submit an appeal urging them to delay.
A lower water level would allow almost two million people – forced to relocate as a result of Three Gorges construction – more preparation time for moving, say petitioners, adding that an increased water level would intensify pressure on resettlers and resettlement officials.
In their response, leaders claim the dam “probably” will be maintained at 156 metres, although the objective is still to raise the level “without delay” – how long the lower level might remain in place wasn’t specified and no reprieve for hundreds of thousands of people still unsure of where they will go once waters start rising was offered.
The official response also touched on plans to move major discharge outlets and install new wastewater treatment projects to counter petitioners’ concerns that a raised reservoir level would increase the risk of flooding discharge outlets. Location details were not given.
Further doubts expressed by petitioners about the dam’s capacity to manage a flood disaster were not directly addressed, although leaders did acknowledge that public flood-control expectations were high and hoped that through a “shared responsibility to create the most favourable conditions possible” this expectation would be fulfilled. Who shares in this responsibility remains unclear.
Strengthening their case for a lower water level, petitioners raised the spectre of the trouble-plagued Sanmenxia dam – completed in 1960. Suggestions to lower the Sanmenxia reservoir’s water level and use bottom outlets to flush silt were ignored. As a result, silt buildup in the reservoir exacerbated flooding upstream and the Sanmenxia dam eventually had to be rebuilt.
Government leaders hope the addition of two more dams on a Yangtze tributary upstream of Three Gorges will reduce the inflow of sediment and silt buildup by about half, but petitioners say the dams will be unable to stop sand from choking the reservoir’s upper end at Chongqing port.
Leaders remain optimistic, stating the problem of siltation is “clearly understood” and can be “solved,” but did not provide details as to how this would be achieved.
The leaders concluded their five-page reply, urging caution as a means of guarding against “mistakes” that would “damage the reputation of the project and our national image.”
Just as petitioners had invoked the late Premier Zhou Enlai’s warning to Gezhouba dam builders in the 1970s, that any disruption to Yangtze shipping was a serious crime – “chopping off the heads of those responsible would not be enough” – the leaders assured critics they were heeding another instruction from the late premier to proceed carefully as “though we were walking along the edge of a cliff.”
Three Gorges Probe, June 16, 2000
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Contact: PATRICIA ADAMS, Executive Director, Probe International, and Publisher of Three Gorges Probe Internet News Service (416) 964-9223 ext. 227 or e-mail PatriciaAdams@nextcity.com
GRÁINNE RYDER, Policy Director, Probe International (416) 964-9223 ext. 228, or e-mail GrainneRyder@nextcity.com
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