China's Dams

Press Release: Three Gorges tourism – boom or bust?

(April 24, 2012) The Three Gorges Dam project was supposed to energize the Three Gorges region but a new study from Probe International reveals the dam is jeopardizing a once spectacular mountain and water tourist idyll, and has drained the area’s vitality, stability and ecology.

Probe International

Much has been said and written about China’s epic Three Gorges Dam and its growing costs. While even official enthusiasm for the dam has waned in the face of sobering developments and reports that reveal the seriousness of the megaproject’s problems, data on the dam’s impacts at a more human level remain scant. For instance, is the Three Gorges Dam the boon to tourism it was touted to be? What do the transformations to the natural landscape look like?

A new study by Professor Chen Guojie, a prominent scientist and longtime chronicler of the dam, has done just that. Helped by two researchers, Professor Chen and his colleagues examined the effects of the dam’s operation at different times on sites of interest to tourists in the project’s reservoir area: a world-class gorge landscape, where visible environmental impacts are of crucial concern to the tourism industry.

The study focuses on the reservoir area’s drawdown zone – the sightline of tourists traveling the Three Gorges area by boat and, in particular, the part of the dam reservoir’s ‘shoreline’ exposed when the reservoir’s top water line of 175 metres is lowered to accommodate flood waters. This drawdown zone is varied throughout the reservoir region, sometimes revealed as gentle slopes or steep cliffs and, at other times, as concrete and stone reinforced dikes. The landscapes above the drawdown zone differ one to the other, in similar fashion: from urban centres to ports, industrial parks to green spaces, floodplains, and cliffs.

What is consistent throughout the findings of Professor Chen’s study is the negative effect of the reservoir’s constant rising and falling on the continuity and vitality of this 30 metre margin. For example, soil erosion and dying vegetation caused by water level fluctuations now appears along rubbed raw banks – in places appearing as though the reservoir’s sides were under attack from “psoriasis” – juxtaposed against a gallery of curiosities including island tourist attractions that become peninsulas at low ‘tide’; uncultivated strips of land often littered with trapped garbage, and the daunting gray concrete slopes of areas braced against the constant risk of sliding into the river.

Although, remedial programs are underway in some areas, for the most part, the study reveals that China’s greatest engineering marvel and the world’s most giant dam has dimmed a once spectacular gorges region and water tourist idyll. It concludes efforts to repair the region’s ecology and protect its inhabitants and economy are desperately needed.

Read the study in full here.

View the “Three Gorges Tourism: Boom or Bust?” image gallery here.

For more information, contact Patricia Adams at
Tel. 1 (416) 964-9223 (ext. 227)
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