Dams and Landslides

‘Grim situation’ at Three Gorges Dam, Chinese officials warn

(May 24, 2010) With extraordinary candour, Chinese officials are warning that severe rainstorms and gales this month will make efforts to prevent landslides in the Three Gorges dam area “formidable.”

Wang Min, the vice-minister of Land and Resources calls the situation “grim,” especially as the the flood season is about to begin (mid-June to September).

Massive landslips around the reservoir are nothing new, with thousands of people – many of whom have already resettled once to make way for the dam – have been forced to relocate again for their own safety.  The phenomenon is well-known but was discounted before the dam was built: it occurs when reservoir water infiltrates the surrounding slopes, destabilizes them and makes them prone to landslides.

Chinese officials are calling for an examination of the hazards, for a risk assessment, and for “cooperation between townships and teams of experts.”

But short of evacuating the areas in danger of sliding, there may be little officials can do.

Deputy head of Fengjie county’s geological environment monitoring station, Shao Xiaoquan, told China Daily that “I just can’t predict what effect the flood season will have on our county.”

Patricia Adams, Probe International, May 24, 2010

For more background on landslides in the Three Gorges area see:

For details of how the risk of landslides was discounted in the original feasibility study, see Dam Safety Analysis, by Dr. Philip Williams in Damming the Three Gorges: What Dam-Builders Don’t Want You to Know, by Margaret Barber and Grainne Ryder, Probe International and Earthscan Publications, (Toronto and London), 1993.

Read the full story from China Daily, May 24, 2010

The Ministry of Land and Resources has called for increased efforts to prevent and control potential hazards, such as landslides, in the Three Gorges Dam area as the flood season approaches.

The dam area is currently facing a “grim situation” in trying to prevent and control the potential dangers, Wang Min, vice-minister of Land and Resources, was quoted by Xinhua News Agency as saying.

After the water level of the Three Gorges reservoir rose to 175 meters last September, 97 sections of bank collapsed and 2,000 people were moved, according to the Ministry.

Wang said that since Chongqing municipality, where the majority of the hydroelectricity project is located, had suffered severe rainstorms and gales this month, efforts to prevent and control potential hazards would be formidable.

Though the dam area has yet to enter the flood season, which is usually from mid-June to late September, at least 31 people had been killed and thousands of houses destroyed by the inclement weather, which triggered land and mud slides in Chongqing.

Wang ordered every district authority in the area to begin a comprehensive examination of potential land hazards as soon as possible for data inputting and risk assessment.

He also said that prevention and control efforts be consolidated and that the names of those responsible for each region and risky sites be published. He further called for cooperation between townships and teams of experts.

According to Wang, the measures against risks should focus on Wushan, Fengjie and Wulong counties in Chongqing and Badong county in Hubei province, as well as along the waterway of the Yangtze River, and other risk-prone areas.

Deputy head of Fengjie County’s geological environment monitoring station, Shao Xiaoquan, told China Daily that the risks had continuously increased since 2007.

“We have to be alert all year round regardless of whether it is the flood season or not. But financial support from governments to tackle the situation and to compensate migrants is not enough,” he said. “I just can’t predict what effect the flood season will have on our county.”

Geology professor Chen Hongkai, from Chongqing Jiaotong University, told China Daily more risks may occur in inland areas, rather than at reservoir banks during the flood season.

“Inland road or building construction projects that have damaged vegetation cover are more likely to see landslides or mudslides in the flood season than at banks,” Chen said.

According to vice-minister Wang, the second and third phases of the land hazards prevention and control project are almost finished, with 887 risks in townships or communities addressed and 3,141 threats being monitored by the public.

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