Dams and Landslides

Expect geological trouble at Three Gorges: report

(January 24, 2011) A new report from the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE) says the Three Gorges valley is prone to geological hazards such as tsunami-causing landslides and reservoir-induced earthquakes, which are most likely to occur within 3-5 years after the reservoir reaches its maximum height.

Chinese officials may be basking in the glory of completing the Three Gorges dam after they were able to raise its reservoir to its maximum height of 175 meters this past fall, but they shouldn’t think their troubles are behind them, according to a new report from the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE). Though the CAE is unequivocal in its support for the dam—saying it was “better to build the dam than not” and “sooner rather than later”—the state-sanctioned professional group also warned that the Three Gorges valley is prone to geological hazards such as tsunami-causing landslides and reservoir-induced earthquakes, which are most likely to occur within 3-5 years after the reservoir reaches its maximum height.

Indeed, increased seismic activity was recorded soon after the dam began to fill in 2003.

The report’s warnings will be cold comfort to officials in charge of the controversial dam, which is also saddled with other problems such as rising costs and never-ending programs to resettle residents living near the reservoir because of recurring landslides. Many of those reservoir residents have already been resettled once, unsatisfactorily, and so have returned to eke out a living.

But, far from being critical of the decision to forge ahead with the controversial project that was denounced by many eminent Chinese scientists, the CAE report says those criticisms were unrealized and the conclusions of the ‘original feasibility study’ and decision to build the dam was “completely correct,” and provided the Party’s Central Committee, State Council and National People’s Congress with a “scientific basis” for building the dam.

While it may be true, says the CAE report, that water quality in the reservoir has deteriorated and the dam evacuees remain poor, that can be addressed by relocating returning evacuees to “other economically developed provinces and regions,” thereby curbing population growth and improving the fragile environment around the reservoir. The CAE calls for the region to be declared a “population-controlled” and “environmental protection” zone.

The CAE also insists that Three Gorges is not at risk of becoming another Sanmenxia dam—the massive dam, built in the 1960s on the Yellow River, which was plagued by sedimentation and eventually became a symbol of failed hydro power and state planning.

Three Gorges watchdog, Probe International executive director, Patricia Adams, says the CAE report is one more official propaganda tool designed to justify building the costly Three Gorges dam, deny the emerging bad news about the dam, and reassure the public that the authorities can manage any life-threatening geological events triggered by the dam.

But she adds, it is noteworthy that, “while the CAE authors are trying to shore up the reputation of the Three Gorges dam, they are also trying to protect their own reputations with the caveat warning that geological hazards are likely to occur now that the dam is completed.”

“Ordinary Chinese citizens should heed the warnings and discount the reassurances.”

Probe International, January 24, 2011

Further Reading from Probe International:

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