Three Gorges Probe

A response to the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s decision to suspend approval of hydro dam construction along the middle

(June 12, 2009) The following photos were taken in the middle Jinsha after the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) announced its decision to temporarily suspend the approval of hydro dams.

The photos clearly show how the proposed hydro dams, lacking EIA approval, have significantly impacted the river and the surrounding mountains. The question remains: is temporarily suspending the dams in the Jinsha valley enough?

How much money has been spent on the construction of the dam projects?

Who should be held accountable for the adverse environmental impacts from the dams? And who is responsible for wasting public funds?

Who can say how many mountains and rivers in China have suffered a similar fate?

On Jun 11, 2009, China’s MEP announced a decision to temporarily suspend the approval of hydro dam and construction projects by the Huadian Group and Huaneng Group in the middle Jinsha River. The announcement came after Ludila (owned by Huadian) and Longkaikou (owned by Huaneng) had, without permits from the ministry, already started construction and blocked the flow of the Jinsha River. The move was part of an emergency action taken by the ministry to curb the over-development and poor development of hydro resources in the Jinsha River and protect the area’s natural environment.

It’s true that the middle lower stretches of the Jinsha River, with its high mountains and deep gorges, make it attractive to hydro power development. But it’s these same characteristics that create a stunning natural environment, home to some of the most unique and rare fish species in China. Plus, the river’s valley supports the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people, including ethnic minorities.

Currently, there are plans to build 12 dams—some as high as 200 metres—on the lower and upper regions of the Jinsha River. Six of these dams have already been built and four are in the midst of massive preparation work. Moreover, all the hydro dams are being built based on a cascade design—and come in addition to several small dams being planned by local governments, predominantly in the lower Jinsha.

If all of the dams are completed as planned, the 2000 km-long main channel of the Yangtze—from the Tiger Leaping Gorge upstream to Yichang downstream—would be dramatically changed and significantly fragmented. This would permanently alter the fast-flowing nature of the river.

If today’s over-development of hydro energy is not stopped, the living environment for many of the area’s unique and rare fish species will be destroyed, the beauty of spectacular canyon landscapes will be lost and the farmland and gardens for local people will be flooded.

Furthermore, we are extremely worried about the ensuing risks and instability that would likely result from the dams, as they are being built in a geologically unstable region. To deal with the above issues, we support the creation of an impartial decision-making process involving an EIA, because, as the MEP noted, “it’s necessary and important to carefully proceed the EIA and design the environmental protection planning in the development hydro power in accordance with the law.”

However, the two power companies, Huadian and Huaneng, have not only started building dam projects, but have dammed the Jinsha River without having an EIA approved by the MEP. This means that much of the supporting infrastructure has already been built, including roads leading to the dam and water diversion channels. Plus, large areas of the surrounding hills and vegetation have been destroyed and many of the region’s residents have been displaced.

The region’s ecology has also changed as a result of the construction and damming activities. A spokesman for the Ministry of Environmental Protection pointed out, “the work done by Huadian and Huaneng, without an EIA approval, has made efforts to reduce the environmental impact of the dams extremely difficult.”

This is not the first time the central government has temporarily suspended construction of dams on the Jinsha River. Years ago Xiangjiaba and Xiluodu, two other big dams proposed on the Jinsha, were suspended because they were located in a national rare fish reserve. But the issue was easily “solved” and the two projects quickly resumed simply by submitting an application for approval. As a result of that decision, the national reserve zone was forced to re-adjust its boundaries to make way for the two dam projects.

More recently, the government of Chongqing has tried to build the Xiaonanhai dam, which will put the redefined national reserve zone at risk again. Many critics have asked: is the action taken by the MEP this time also a short-lived one? And will history repeat itself once again?

We’ve noticed, for the first time, that the MEP has taken a different approach – offering a glimmer of hope. For example, regarding concerns on whether to build hydro dam at the Tiger Leaping Gorge, the MEP has made it clear, saying “further studies are needed for the planned chief dam at the Tiger Leaping Gorge as well as the method to develop hydro power in the section of Tiger Leaping Gorge, especially its impact on the environment.”

Therefore, we suggest that all dam projects below the Tiger Leaping Gorge should be suspended as well, since they are either closely related to the chief dam in either their engineering design and operation model, or in their measures to reduce their environmental impact.

Recently, experts have warned that many of the measures in the EIA to protect rare fish species on both the Ahai and Guanyinyan dam projects are not feasible. Located between the two dams on the same river section, the two temporarily suspended dams, Longkaikou and Ludila, are in a similar situation. For this reason, we suggest that dam projects like Longkaikou and Ludila should not be allowed to go ahead before practical measures to protect rare fish species are sought.

We also recommend that the central government make adjustments to the approval process and the construction of hydro power projects. No preparation work or construction activities such as road building, power/water supply and diversion tunnel construction should be undertaken before an EIA report is approved. This will help mitigate environmental damage and the wasting of public money on, what could be, useless preparation work..

Suspending approval of dams on the Jinsha by the MEP is a clear sign that government officials intend to carry out plans to protect the environment. It’s also a positive response to a concerned public.

Building the two dam projects, Longkaikou and Ludila, without approval is also a violation of state regulations, which should require the dam builders to disclose information to the public and implement a public participation process. Because of this violation, the two power companies, Huadian and Huaneng should make their EIA reports public prior to approval, while the environmental authorities should perform their prescribed duties and protect the environment for future generations.

Translated by Three Gorges Probe.

Originally published June 12, 2009

Read the original Chinese version of this letter.

View Probe International’s photo gallery of dam construction along the middle Jinsha.

Signed by Organizations:

Green Earth Volunteers

Friends of Nature

Yunnan Greenwatershed

Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs

Green Hanjiang River

Hebei Green Friend Association

Shaanxi Red Phoenix Engineering Volunteers Association

Gansu Green Camel Bell

Huaihe River Guard

Xiamen Green Cross

Chengdu Urban Rivers Association

Keep Watching Homeland (Shouwang jiayuan)

Enviro Friends

Panjin Black Mouth Gull Protection Association

Shaanxi Mothers Environmental Protection Volunteers

Wild China

Signed by Individuals:

Fan Xiao, Geologist

Yang Yong, Geologist

Xu Fengxiang, Ecologist

Shen Xiaohui, Botanist

Jiang Gaoming, Ecologist

Wang Jian, Water Expert

Yang Tuan, Sociologist

Yu Xiaoyan, Journalist

Liu Jianxiang, Journalist

Xiao Yuan, Environmental Protection Volunteer

Shi Lihong, Environmental Protection Volunteer

Chen Hong, Environmental Protection Volunteer

Lin Wan, Environmental Protection Volunteer

Chen Jingyu, Environmental Protection Volunteer

Liu Xiaohong, Education Volunteer

Li Nan, Education Volunteer

Li Chenhua, Entrepreneur

Zhang Chenglin, Entrepreneur

Gequanxiao, Farmer from the Jinsha valley

Xiao Jialin, Farmer from the Jinsha valley

Chinese NGO statement, June 12, 2009

Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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