China's Dams

Testing times for Three Gorges Dam and the Canadian connection to its construction

Canada’s flag is draped all over the national pride of China.

The Early Edition with Stephen Quinn / June 25, 2020

Torrential rains battering southern China have once again prompted alarm about the structural integrity of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River and its ability to regulate water flow and prevent flooding during the heaviest rainfall in two decades.

Shedding light on the dam’s history of controversy and Canada’s connection to it, Patricia Adams of Probe International discussed the stakes an untested hydro behemoth like Three Gorges posed to the current situation when she spoke to Stephen Quinn for the CBC’s The Early Edition in late June. [Listen Here]

In its 10 years of operation at full capacity, the ability of Three Gorges to cope in an extreme but cyclical flood crisis has never been tested, although it could be now. Concerns about how it might perform – as well as fail – speak to long-standing issues with the dam’s construction and oversight.

These issues are substantial in their potential to wreak havoc in the current day and include dubious building standards exacerbated by local government corruption, as well as other underlying threats (see dam cracks). Another great unknown is the area’s high seismicity.

There are six fault lines near to Three Gorges and the danger of their proximity to the largest dam in the world were never properly investigated during the feasibility study undertaken for the dam (the filling of dam reservoirs are triggers associated with seismic activity). The feasibility study that green-lighted the project ties a number of Canadian companies to its completion – including SNC and Lavalin, back then two separate entities not yet overshadowed by their own run of scandal. (Tune into the CBC broadcast to learn more about how Canada’s flag came to be draped all over the national pride of China.)

Now that the Yangtze is built up with large-scale dams upstream and downstream of Three Gorges, the possibility of a series of dam failures or even the failure of one is unthinkable.

Meanwhile, the parallels to silencing tactics used during the novel coronavirus are again in evidence. Chinese authorities in some regions have warned citizens against posting “unflattering” information and images about flooding or risk arrest.

Says Patricia Adams: If citizens are not allowed to communicate with each other, warn each other and post images, they’re blind to the extent of flooding.

Adams encourages Canadians living in China to remain on high alert.

“Pack a bag and be ready to evacuate to higher ground on very, very short notice,” she said. “Don’t rely on state media.” [Listen to the full broadcast]

– Probe International monitors reservoir water levels at the Three Gorges Dam both upstream and downstream on a daily basis. Follow these levels for yourself here.

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