Dams and Landslides

Dirty Three Gorges is not a new problem

(September 9, 2010) Probe International’s chronology of worries about the contamination of China’s Yangtze River and dirty waters behind the dam.

The reservoir behind the Three Gorges dam is dirty—filthy, in fact. One official says that tons of sewage are dumped into the Yangtze River every second. After the recent heavy rains hit the region, the garbage behind the dam was so thick in some places that people could walk across it.

Responding to the problem of a polluted Three Gorges reservoir, Chinese officials recently announced a multi-billion dollar plan to plant trees and treat sewage along the Yangtze River. The plan, according to Jia Zhibang, director of the State Forestry Administration, comes as the state of the Yangtze is still “far from what the people are planning.”

But officials have been warned for years that the Three Gorges reservoir would be seriously and dangerously polluted. They should have addressed the problem long ago. Their failure to take effective action makes them all the more culpable.

For a chronology of worries about the contamination of China’s Yangtze River and of the dirty waters behind the dam, read on:

1989, excerpt from “Yangtze! Yangtze”: After the completion of the reservoir, poisonous particles from submerged coal and phosphorus mines would settle on the bottom of the river bed. Also, poisonous byproducts from the reconstructed factories would be ingested by the local people in the area. The slow wind velocity, heavy fog, high humidity, industrial smog, and traffic would quickly result in pollution and induce acid rain. Read the full chapter…

November 29, 1999: “After thousands of years of letting their sewage flow downstream and out to sea, Chongqing and other Yangtze cities now face the prospect of it staying in the water that laps their shores. If completed as planned, the massive Three Gorges dam will slow the Yangtze river’s flow, backing up water and concentrating sewage and modern-day pollutants in its 600-kilometre reservoir. A Chinese scientist from Chongqing predicts it will be a “huge, stagnant, stinking pond.”

Every year, Chongqing, a highly industrialized municipality of 30 million, produces about 1.2 billion tons of wastewater: 900 million tons of industrial wastewater and 300 million tons of sewage. The municipality, at the planned reservoir’s upstream end, treats only about one-third of its industrial wastewater and almost none of its sewage before flushing it into the river.” Read the full story…

February 14, 2001: “Leaked correspondence between China’s top leadership reveals growing official alarm over the threat of unmitigated water pollution in the Three Gorges dam reservoir.” Read the full story…

January 16, 2002: “A Chinese government agency issued a remarkably bleak assessment of pollution on the Yangtze River on Tuesday, raising new concerns about the cleanliness of the reservoir that will soon collect behind the massive Three Gorges Dam. Read the full story…

January 23, 2002: “As China races against the clock to clean up the bottom of the future Three Gorges reservoir this year, experts fear the colossal undertaking could be too little, too late to avert an environmental catastrophe.

About 23.4 billion tons of sewage and industrial waste were dumped into China’s largest river and its branches in 2000, 11 percent more than the year before, according to a report by the Yangtze River Water Resources Committee.” Read the full story…

February 8, 2002: “As uneasiness grows about the potential consequences of a slapdash cleanup of the Three Gorges reservoir bed, a respected newspaper has reported some of the latest concerns of Chinese environmental experts: waste sites containing radioactive debris, wartime graves contaminated with anthrax, deadly bacteria in drinking water and displaced hordes of rats spreading disease.” Read the full story…

February 28, 2002: “The success of China’s vast Three Gorges dam project is under threat from large amounts of pollution and toxic waste that could badly contaminate a reservoir due to be created for the scheme, a senior official has warned.” Read the full story…

April 1, 2004: “Citing ‘worrisome’ levels of industrial pollution, China’s state environmental agency has acknowledged that pollution-control efforts in the Three Gorges reservoir area have not gone as well as planned, China Daily reports.

The State Environmental Protection Administration said in a report issued Thursday [April 1] that 93.8 per cent of polluters required to clean up their act had not done so, more than two-thirds of enterprises due to be shut down were still operating, and 35 per cent of major treatment programs have not been started.” Read the full story…

May 12, 2006: “A reservoir created by China’s Three Gorges Dam will become a giant cesspool because of pollution that is threatening the Yangtze River, a monitoring group said Monday.

Some 1.18 billion tons of wastewater discharged annually into the Yangtze by the city of Chongqing is expected to increase pollution around the city by 34 percent once the dam and reservoir are completed, the Canadian group Probe International said. Pollution at stretches down river from Chongqing, at Fuling and Wanshou, will increase by 57 percent, Probe said, citing Chinese reports.” Read the full story…

April 15, 2007: “China’s Three Gorges Dam reservoir has been fouled by pesticides, fertilizers and sewage, and more than 600 kilometres of the Yangtze river are critically polluted, Xinhua news agency said on Sunday, citing a report.” Read the full story…

April 16, 2007: “The continued dumping of billions of tons of waste is taking an irreversible toll on aquatic life in China’s longest waterway, the first annual health report on the Yangtze River has found.

More than 600 kilometers of the river are in critical condition, and almost 30 percent of its major tributaries – including the Minjiang, Tuojiang, Xiangjiang and Huangpu rivers – are seriously polluted, the report said.” Read the full report…

November 1, 2007: “Skeptics about the world’s biggest hydroelectric dam are being vindicated as Chinese officials are becoming more worried about landslides and pollution in the Three Gorges reservoir and its tributaries. The Economist reviews the recent shift in official reporting and commentary on the Three Gorges dam.” Read the full story…

November 9, 2007: “Earlier this year, Central China Television (CCTV) interviewed Weng Lida, Director of the Yangtze Water Resources Protection Bureau, about water pollution in the Yangtze and his department’s newly-published report, Yangtze Protection and Development 2007.”

Weng explains that water pollution has become so severe it threatens the health of people relying on the Yangtze for their drinking water. He calls for more attention to environmental protection before further development, and recommends measures for reducing the Three Gorges dam’s negative environmental impacts. Read the full story…

July 22, 2008: “The month-long algae outbreak on a tributary of the Yangtze River, blamed on large numbers of phosphor mines and processing factories, has sent an alert to environmental authorities to raise water treatment standards in the Three Gorges Dam area.” Read the full story…

August 2, 2010: “Thick layers of garbage from continuous rain-triggered floods along the Yangtze River are threatening the safety of the Three Gorges Dam, a senior official has said.” Read the full story…

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