Three Gorges Probe

Stick to the plan or risk disaster in the Three Gorges, Chinese experts warn

(July 17, 2000) Chinese experts urge Premier Zhu Rongji to stick to initial operating plan.

In their second protest letter this year, 53 senior Chinese engineers and academics have warned Premier Zhu Rongji that Three Gorges dam officials are courting disaster by flouting the dam’s initial operating plan.

In a bid to maximize earnings from the world’s largest hydro dam, officials responsible for the Three Gorges dam project are planning to fill the dam’s reservoir within the first six years of operation. According to the petitioners, this move violates a National People’s Congress resolution to keep the reservoir low for an initial period of 10 years.

The petitioners warn that the dam builders’ intent to fill the reservoir to 175 metres by 2009 would force an additional half-million people out of their homes and obstruct navigation along the Yangtze River’s upper reaches.

Raising the water level violates a 1992 National People’s Congress resolution to keep the reservoir at 156 metres for the first 10 years of operation so that experts have enough time to monitor silt buildup and decide if higher water levels are feasible.

The petition, written by Lu Qinkan, a retired Ministry of Water Resources engineer who worked on the dam’s original feasibility study, argues that the 156-metre plan would still generate benefits while dramatically cutting costs. The government could avoid the costly and difficult task of displacing half a million people, and it could save three county seats, four large factories, and many cultural and historical sites from submergence. Maintaining a 156-metre reservoir would also reduce public health hazards and costs for Chongqing, the largest urban centre upstream of the dam, because it would not submerge the city’s drainage outlets and back up sewage systems as a 175-metre reservoir would.

To keep the Yangtze navigable, the experts insist that the 1992 resolution must be respected.

Three Gorges officials quietly changed the dam’s operating plan in 1997 in order to maximize power output and speed repayment of the dam’s US$ 30- billion cost.

That decision has incited protest within China, especially now that the country is experiencing a glut in electricity supply and there are growing doubts about whether the dam, scheduled to come on-line in 2003, will be able to find enough customers for its massive output.

Three Gorges Probe, July 17, 2000

Contact: PATRICIA ADAMS, Executive Director, Probe International, and Publisher of Three Gorges Probe Internet News Service (416) 964-9223 ext. 227 or e-mail

GRÁINNE RYDER, Policy Director, Probe International (416) 964-9223 ext. 228, or e-mail


Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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