Three Gorges Probe

Local residents say Three Gorges dam aggravating drought

(October 30, 2009) Three Gorges dam officials are defending their plan to continue to raise the project’s reservoir level, saying a higher reservoir will help residents living downstream face a potentially more dangerous drought in the upcoming dry season. But local residents say the dam is making an already severe, and deadly, drought even worse.

According to Xinhua, at least 1.5 million people and more than 320-thousand livestock along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze in the Hunan and Jiangxi provinces and the southern Guandong province, are suffering from a lack of water. One media outlet says all of the provinces living downstream of the Three Gorges dam, including Hunan and Jiangxi, are suffering the most severe drought in decades.

Yet, for the past several weeks, officials from the dam have been slowly restricting the amount of water flowing to residents living downstream, as they seek to raise the dam’s reservoir and bring the massive hydro electric project to maximum capacity. Since mid-September, the Three Gorges reservoir has been raised to 170.39 metres from 145.87 metres. Officials originally planned to have the reservoir reach its peak height of 175 metres by the end of October.

Now, because of the drought, officials say the dam’s reservoir will not reach its peak until early November.

But the conflict between energy production—which requires a higher reservoir level and therefore, that more water be stored behind the dam—and satisfying the water needs of downstream populations, especially in a time of drought, highlights one of many criticisms of megadams. Multipurpose hydro dams typically forsake all other functions in order to maximize revenues from electricity production.

According to Xinhua, an extra 10-billion kilowatt hours of electricity can be generated annually if the reservoir level was raised from 156 metres to 175 metres.

Plus, a larger, and longer, reservoir allows for an extra 150 kilometres of navigable waterways, the news agency says. A higher reservoir would allow a fleet of 10,000 deadweight tonnage to sail from Yichang, the dam’s nearest city, to one of the biggest industrial cities upstream, Chongqing.

But by raising the reservoir and harnessing the promised economic and shipping benefits of the dam, the operators are restricting the amount of water reaching the millions of residents living downstream. For those millions of residents downstream, the decision is having drastic consequences.

Xinhua is reporting that 420,000 residents in the downstream Jiangxi Province are facing severe drinking water shortages. Fisherman in the Huhan province, meanwhile, have been forced to stop fishing in what is typically the best time of year for the industry.

UPDATE: A recent story from China Daily provides more evidence that the Three Gorges dam is making the drought worse for residents.

“The operation of the Three Gorges reservoir has exacerbated the drought, leading to a decrease in water flow into the lake, the newspaper quoted anonymous experts as saying,” the paper reported.

“The lake’s water volume dropped again after the project on the Three Gorges reservoir began to raise the reservoir’s water level since mid-September.”

Brady Yauch, Probe International, October 30, 2009

Read the full story.

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