China Energy Industry

China’s mea culpa: Three Gorges Dam problems must be “solved urgently”

(May 19, 2011) Amid power shortages and potential catastrophe, China admits to failings in the Three Gorges Dam. Probe International Fellow Dai Qing responds from Beijing.

By Lisa Peryman for Probe International

The Chinese government has at last admitted publicly that the Three Gorges Dam project is troubled by water pollution, has negatively impacted the surrounding environment, has created geological hazards and has brought hardship to relocated residents, reports Xinhua, the state-run media mouthpiece of the Chinese government.

In a statement released to Chinese media following a meeting of the State Council presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao, the government announced that it has “decided [to] take effective measures” to resolve a range of problems created by the dam.

In its statement, the government promises to “properly handle the negative effects brought by the project to the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River and improve the long-term mechanisms for geological disaster prevention.” It promises to “curb environmental deterioration in the Three Gorges Project areas by 2020” and “increase efforts to preserve the ecological environment and promote biological diversity” in the project area, as well as step up its oversight and control of water pollution to ensure the safety of drinking water. The government also pledges to raise the standard of living for relocated residents.

The government’s public recognition is a sign of the gravity of the problems besetting the project.

Indeed, they are so grave says high-profile Chinese environmental activist Dai Qing that, “no amount of money can fix the problem. It fundamentally cannot be resolved.”

“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 says in a Reuters interview.

The damage caused by the dam is in some cases irreversible, she claims, and in other cases would require vast sums of money to resolve.

According to Dai Qing’s colleague in Toronto, Patricia Adams, Executive Director of Probe International, one of the gravest concerns is the increase in seismic activity induced by the dam: at least 3,429 earthquakes have been registered in the Three Gorges valley since impoundment of the reservoir began in June 2003, with the largest registering a magnitude 4.1 on the Richter scale (data is not available beyond December 31, 2009).

The phenomena of reservoir-induced seismicity is well known and has already occurred at 19 dam sites in China, 15 of which have geological conditions similar to Three Gorges. Landslides have also occurred as a result of the reservoir rising, sweeping people to their deaths.

Government officials are well aware of these risks, says Dai Qing, and of the potentially catastrophic consequences of a worst case scenario, but there is little they can do about it, now that the dam is built and operating.

Further Reading

Severe drought saps Chinese power output

The Three Gorges Dam’s new normal: failure

China acknowledges downside to Three Gorges Dam

Expect geological trouble at Three Gorges: report

Fragile Three Gorges: Caijing magazine reports

Landslide hits town near China’s Three Gorges dam

Dam on dangerous ground

Quakes jolt Three Gorges area as huge reservoir fills

Three Gorges: Privatizing the profits, socializing the costs

China’s earthquake and early warning system

China’s Three Gorges dam: An environmental catastrophe?

Minor tremors rattle Three Gorges during reservoir filling

Scientists build case that Zipingpu dam triggered China’s devastating earthquake

Zipingpu and the 2008 Sichuan earthquake: The debate continues

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