Dams and Earthquakes

Quake leaves Three Gorges Dam unfazed as reservoir reaches maximum capacity

(November 1, 2012) China’s Three Gorges Dam was not affected by a minor earthquake that struck early Wednesday in Hubei province, say officials, one day after the mega-dam’s mega-reservoir was filled to maximum capacity for the third time since its construction.

Quake leaves Three Gorges Dam unphased as reservoir reaches maximum capacity

by Patricia Adams for Probe International

UPI reports that a small earthquake measuring 3.2 on the Richter scale, felt across Zigui County in Hubei, just west of the massive Three Gorges Dam, did not bring harm to China’s water-control giant.

“The minor earthquake has not affected the Three Gorges Dam, which can endure far stronger earthquakes,” said a spokeswoman for China Three Gorges Corporation.

She said no earthquake-triggered landslides have been reported in the reservoir area and all power-generating units are working normally.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

“Wednesday’s earthquake was a shallow-focus earthquake rather than a structural one,” said Zhang Shuguang, the head of the water project’s management bureau.

“It was not very destructive.”

Zhang told Xinhuanet, the state news agency, that the earthquake could have been triggered by water pouring into caves or the excavation of coal mine shafts in the region.

According to the China Earthquake Networks Center, the tremor hit Zigui County of Yichang City in central China’s Hubei Province at 3:42 a.m., with its epicenter at just 5 km below ground.

The day before the earthquake, the massive Three Gorges reservoir was filled to its maximum design capacity of 175m for the third time since its construction.

State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) released the following update:

The water level behind the Three Gorges Dam has risen to 175m. This marks the third consecutive successful try for the dam following ones in 2010 and 2011.

The Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest water control project. It’s expected to soon be put to full use for flood prevention, electricity production, water transportation and supply. The waters behind the dam will eventually create a 660-kilometres-long reservoir. It is hoped that this will help improve transportation in the region. In the meantime work will be done to improve the scenery along the Yangtze River, a major tourist attraction.

According to, Xinhuanet, once the dam reached its maximum water level of 175 metres above sea level, experts would be able to “observe, research and validate the dam’s original design and to test its hydropower turbo-generators.”

Niu Xinqiang, head of the Yangtze River Institute of Survey, Planning and Design said that since the dam started to hold water in 2003, about 19,000 earthquakes, most of which have been slight or ultra-slight, have been reported in the reservoir region.

But, so far, he added, “No structural earthquake has been reported.”

Further reading:

China’s new mega-dam is a mega-problem

A litany of troubles at Three Gorges Dam

Chinese study reveals Three Gorges Dam triggered 3,000 earthquakes, numerous landslides

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