Dams and Landslides

To little surprise, environmental programs at Three Gorges are falling short

(July 5, 2010) As the environmental problems continue to plague the massive Three Gorges dam, officials are falling way behind on programs to contain the pollution caused by its construction. Less than a fifth of the “water environment” programs laid out in a ten year plan in 2001 have been completed, while all nine of the projects to control pollution from ships have not begun, according to Vice-Minister of Environmental Protection Zhang Lijun.

While local officials provide a number of reasons for the failure to implement the programs, top of that list is the lack of funds, according to the state-run media outlet China Daily.

He Duanqi, vice-governor of Yunnan, says total investment in the ten-year plan for pollution control in the province should be as high as 2-billion yuan ($294-million). But to date, the central government has allocated 345 million yuan, less than 20 percent of the original figure.

Zhang Tong, vice-governor of Hubei, said the government could use money from a tax electricity rates to fund ecological and environmental projects along the Yangtze.

But Vice-Minister Zhang Lijun is having none of it, saying the lack of money is no reason for the delay in environmental protection programs. He says the deadline for the ten-year plan is six months away, and provinces and municipalities that fail to complete 60 percent of the projects will be punished.

He said companies that fail to meet pollution standards by the end of the year will be forced to stop production.

Zhang is also calling for an alarm system to be put in place in the Three Gorges region, as well as an upstream area to help control sudden increases in pollution.

A blue algae outbreak has plagued the Three Gorges region since 2003—partly a result, says Zhang Tong, on the construction of water reservoirs on the Yangtze River.

Zhang Lijun noted that a number of water samples from the Three Gorges region were unsafe—adding that the blue algae outbreak is increasing not only in rivers, but also in lakes. Zhang said the industries along the river are also threatening the environment, as a number of heavy-polluting enterprises are dumping pollutants into the river.

Both pollution and escalating costs have plagued the dam since its inception.

While officials say cost of the dam is $27-billion, Probe International’s Dai Qing said the final price tag may be as high as $88-billion. Meanwhile, officials recently said they’ll need billions more to deal with the ongoing environmental problems associated with the dam.

And the list of the dam’s environmental problems is far longer and more varied than the supposed benefits. To date there have been landslides, toxic waters, sedimentation, the extinction of a number of species and increased seismic tremors as a result of the reservoir crossing two fault lines.

Behind the monetary and environmental costs of the dam are more than a million displaced citizens that have been pushed off of their land and forced to abandon their traditional livelihoods.

Brady Yauch, Probe International, July 5, 2010

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