As Beijing officials and Three Gorges Dam operator, China Three Gorges Corporation, praise the hydro giant for its performance and benefits during a time of punishing floods and some of the heaviest rainfall on record, experts who have studied the dam for decades say Three Gorges cannot cope with flood control under the current conditions – one of the major justifications for the project’s construction.
“[Three Gorges] can only partially and temporarily intercept the upstream floods, and is powerless to help with floods caused by heavy rainfall in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River.”
David Shankman, a geographer with the University of Alabama who studies Chinese floods, points out that “one of the major justifications for the Three Gorges Dam was flood control”. Less than 20 years after its completion, the Yangtze is nevertheless experiencing the highest floodwater in recorded history, said Shankman.
“The fact is,” he says, Three Gorges “cannot prevent these severe events.”
Ye Jianchun, China’s vice-minister of water resources, and Three Gorges Corporation say the dam has been effective at controlling the floods and holding back the extent of the elevated waters on the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze.
But parts of the Yangtze, its tributaries and major lakes like the Dongting and Poyang have hit record levels anyway, reports Reuters. [Further reading: Jiangxi enters ‘wartime mode’ as nation faces flood catastrophe].
Three Gorges and other major dam projects could even make flooding worse, warns Fan Xiao.
High-scale, rapid development of the Yangtze, the altered flow of sedimentation caused by damming, and focusing on hydropower to the detriment of the area’s rivers and lakes to naturally regulate flooding, all play a part in the precariousness of the situation at hand say experts.