China "Going Out"

China damming Lhasa River into artificial lakes

Beijing’s Lhasa River Project comes under fire from high-profile Chinese geologist and environmentalist, Fan Xiao.


China’s “river to lake” project will see the construction of six dams along a 20-kilometre stretch of Lhasa’s Kyichu river, a tributary of the Yarlung Tsangpo. Chinese geologist, Fan Xiao, tells VOA News the dams — designed to improve water quality, promote tourism and prevent sandstorms — will have an opposite effect and may even increase the risk of earthquakes.

Prayer flags hang before Zangmu Hydropower Station in Gyaca county in Lhoka, or Shannan prefecture, southwest China's Tibetan Autonomous Region, Nov., 23, 2014.

Prayer flags hang before Zangmu Hydropower Station in Gyaca county in Lhoka, or Shannan prefecture, southwest China’s Tibetan Autonomous Region, Nov., 23, 2014.

VOA News, published on February 21, 2016

Chinese state media say work crews in Tibet are turning the Lhasa River into a series of artificial lakes.

The Chinese government’s Lhasa River Project aims to build six dams along a 20-kilometer long stretch of the river.

Media reports say the man-made lakes are designed to help the travel industry, improve water quality, and prevent sandstorms. The project is aimed at creating what Chinese officials are calling a “green environment.”

But some critics disagree. Fan Xiao is a Chinese geologist with the Sichuan Geological Society. He told VOA’s Tibetan Service that “dams can slow down the river flow and damage the water quality.” He calls the dams “problematic,” explaining that they will lead to sedimentation, which damages water quality.

He also said the water environment capacity, the amount of water kept in each lake, will decrease and be more easily polluted. He added that “flowing water is much better than still water.”

Agricultural Impact

Also known as Kyichu, the Lhasa River provides irrigation and drinking water for Tibetan farmers in nine counties. Work on two major hydropower dams has already affected many farmers. The dams are being built northeast of the city of Lhasa, in Lhundup and Maldro Gungkar counties. The two have an estimated cost of over $1 billion, according to the China Tibet News service.

Earthquake risk

Geologist Fan Xiao also says Chinese officials are ignoring the serious risk of the Lhasa River Project causing earthquakes. Some leading engineers and geologists have linked the 7.9-magnitude Sichuan quake of 2008 with work on China’s huge Three Gorges Dam.

According to the China Daily, the Lhasa River Project’s first working dam – named “Dam No. 3” – has already widened the river more than 300 meters. It has also created a water storage capacity of 1.5 million cubic meters.

If all six dams are of about the same size, they could hold about 9 million cubic meters of water in Lhasa Valley when finished.

Environmentalists are concerned about how the remaining construction work will impact Salmon migration.

A China Daily article quoted someone described as Dam No.3’s project manager. It said the official promised that the project would not harm the movement of fish.

“The dam gate will open for the fish to propagate in due time; therefore, it won’t pose a threat to the ecology of river downstream,” the project manager said.

Yeshi Dorje reported on this story for VOANews.com. Marsha James adapted the report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

See also: China’s six kyichu dams for Lhasa seen as ill-advised

A high-profile Chinese geologist and environmentalist, and the author of several reports for Probe International. Fan Xiao is the former chief engineer of the Regional Geological Survey Team of the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau.

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