China's Dams

China acknowledges downside to Three Gorges Dam

(May 18, 2011) The government of China has issued a rare acknowledgment of the issues dogging the country’s massive Three Gorges Dam project. Longtime dam critic and Probe International Fellow Dai Qing calls out the move as a likely “attempt to shirk responsibility”.

By Michael Martina

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s landmark Three Gorges Dam project provides benefits to the Chinese people, but has created a myriad of urgent problems from the relocation of more than a million residents to risks of geological disasters, the Chinese government said on Thursday.

The statement from China’s State Council, or cabinet, marked a rare acknowledgment of the issues that have shadowed the world’s largest dam, an engineering feat designed to tame the Yangtze River that snakes from the Tibetan plateau to Shanghai.

“At the same time that the Three Gorges project provides huge comprehensive benefits, urgent problems must be resolved regarding the smooth relocation of residents, ecological protection, and geological disaster prevention,” the statement said, which appeared on the government’s website (www.gov.cn).

Premier Wen Jiabao presided over the meeting that produced the statement, which also said problems existed for down-river transport, irrigation and water supplies.

Problems emerged at various stages of project planning and construction but could not be solved immediately, and some arose because of “increased demands brought on by economic and social development,” the statement said.

The government said it would continue to address the problems caused by the dam, and vowed to set-up disaster alert systems and increased funding for environmental protection.

Enormously expensive and disruptive, the dam has cost over 254 billion yuan ($37.47 billion) and forced the relocation of 1.3 million people to make way for the reservoir.

Towns, fields and historical and archaeological sites have been submerged, just as pollution and geological threats have risen around the slopes around the 660-km (410-mile) reservoir.

Last year, China’s media began fretting about whether the dam could meet one if its long-term objectives of flood control and officials have since been toning down claims of its flood-taming abilities.

Dai Qing, an environmental activist who has opposed the Three Gorges project said the damage caused by the dam is in some cases irreversible, and in other cases would require vast sums of money to resolve.

“The most serious threat is that of geological disasters. Now that the dam is in place, no amount of money can fix the problem. It fundamentally cannot be resolved,” she said.

Dai said that Wen and President Hu Jintao, trained in geological and hydraulic engineering respectively, did not appear at a celebration ceremony for the opening of the dam because as industry insiders they were aware of the risks of the project.

“There is no question that the problems with the dam are extremely serious, but this statement is likely just an attempt to shirk responsibility,” she said.

Edited by Alex Richardson

See Reservoir levels at the Three Gorges Dam: Probe International’s “ticker tape” monitor of Three Gorges reservoir levels.

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