(November 11, 2011) Now that China’s Three Gorges dam is a done deal, its true costs are worse than anyone imagined.
The Three Gorges hydro dam on China’s Yangtze River – the world’s largest dam – is now finished, despite the 20-year-long effort by Probe International and our Chinese colleagues to stop it. Now the water behind the dam has been backed up to its maximum level. And now the debate over the dam – whether it would lead to incalculable damage or not – is over: The harms are more intractable and costly than anyone imagined.
This spring, China’s largest fresh water lakes downstream – Poyang and Dongting – shrunk alarmingly. Shipping along the Yangtze, China’s major water transportation route, was suspended.
Ships were beached. Centuries-old fishing villages and rice farmers downstream became destitute.
This happened, in large part, because the Three Gorges dam operators held the water back in the reservoir to generate electricity, rather than letting it follow its natural course downstream.
The harms extend even further. Downstream at Shanghai, where the Yangtze meets the ocean, diminished water flows and silt deposits are leading to saltwater intrusion from the ocean, threatening the city’s water supplies and causing coastal erosion.
The 5,300-kilometre perimeter around the reservoir has become prone to landslides, especially as the reservoir level rises and falls, loosening the slopes. Already, scores of people have been swept to their deaths, with thousands more living in peril as the very ground under them shifts and cracks.
We could be in the early stages of another unfolding disaster, too.
In a major paper prepared for Probe International, Fan Xiao, chief engineer of the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau, documents that the drought downstream of Three Gorges will only get worse as more dams are built along the Yangtze and its tributaries. In fact, these dams are so numerous that their combined reservoir capacity will exceed the Yangtze’s entire water flow, turning China’s largest river into a series of ponds interrupted by dry stretches.
The demise of the vital, once mighty Yangtze River system seems inevitable, leaving millions of Chinese citizens feeling helpless to protect the river on which their culture and livelihoods depend.
Yet many haven’t given up. Across China, citizens are organizing to protect their environments, taking heart in the knowledge that citizens in other countries are forcing governments to restore natural river flows to maintain fish stocks and to provide water for agriculture. They are learning that in other countries floodgates are being opened and in some cases dams are being dismantled.
It is only a matter of time before this debate spreads across China.
Chinese environmental researchers, lawyers, and journalists throughout China are working tirelessly and bravely using the power of the Internet to communicate with other citizens about the harm caused by ill-conceived dams, and about possible remedies. The reach of these “netizens,” as they call themselves, in a country with 300 million Internet users is enormous.
At Probe International, we are doing everything we can to further that debate with facts, figures and evidence from around the world. When we started our Internet news service, Three Gorges Probe, in 1998, Chinese citizens called it the only source of the “truth” about the Three Gorges dam. Today, with the ever growing network of environmentalists across China, we continue to seek the true costs of dams like Three Gorges and hold those up to the cold light of day.
Please join us in our work to empower Chinese citizens to protect their environment, with a generous donation to Probe International.
P.S. We have added a new way for you to donate to Probe International that is quick, easy, and secure. Just go to the CanadaHelps website (at http://www.canadahelps.org/), search for “Probe International”. That will lead you to the donate page for the Energy Probe Research Foundation, our parent foundation. After that, just follow the steps. Be sure to choose “Probe International” when you get to “Fund/Designation.” You will receive a receipt immediately, plus a letter from us confirming and thanking you for your much appreciated support.
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Categories: Campaign Letters