Three Gorges “Reservoir Watch”

Reservoir levels at the Three Gorges Dam: Why we are tracking them.

Although the Three Gorges Dam is a multitasking giant designed to generate electricity, control floods and promote navigation, it has difficulty meeting these design goals simultaneously. In the dam’s operations, these three functions tend to conflict with each other. When the dam’s water levels are lowered in anticipation of containing surging floodwaters, power generation suffers. So too does navigation upstream. When water is retained in the reservoir to generate maximum power, downstream areas are deprived of water and ships are beached. When floodwaters do come, water is retained in the reservoir to protect downstream populations, causing flooding for upstream populations instead. This is especially so for the Three Gorges Dam where silt deposits in the slow-moving waters of the reservoir are raising the river bed and the dam’s reservoir to a higher level than announced, placing upstream populations at risk of flooding.

For the millions of people living upstream and downstream of theThree Gorges Dam,the management of the dam’s reservoir level directly affects their security and livelihoods. But the risks don’t end there.

Landslides are triggered by a rising and falling reservoir after water permeates the surrounding soil, loosens it and induces large and small land masses to slide down into the reservoir. According to Chinese and US Geological Survey experts, thousands of landslides in the geologically young Three Gorges area could be triggered in this way. Some already have, with deadly consequences.

Seismologists have also detected that earthquakes induced by large reservoirs, like Three Gorges, occur after a dam has operated at its maximum operating level (called the Normal Pool Level or NPL) and goes into drawdown – with the largest reservoir-induced seismic events occurring within 4 to 5 years after reaching the NPL. Scientists now believe that this process at the Zipingpu dam in Sichuan may have triggered the May 12, 2008 earthquake that killed 90,000 Chinese citizens and are poring over data to determine the dynamic effect of the dam’s reservoir levels on seismic activity leading up to and including the enormous M7.9 earthquake.

The Three Gorges reservoir levels are important for reasons of public safety. But they also serve as an important indicator of the dam’s failure to deliver its promised goals: insufficient water cannot generate the electricity revenues to cover the cost of dam construction, or facilitate shipping upstream to the port of Chongqing. Threateningly high water levels caused by high inflows indicate that the dam cannot contain floodwaters, as promised.

For these reasons, and in order to produce a clear-eyed analysis of the costs and benefits of the Three Gorges Dam, we are tracking the daily Three Gorges reservoir level here.

Water Levels at Three Gorges Reservoir

April – May 2011

June 2011

July 2011

August 2011

September 2011

October 2011

November 2011

December 2011

January 2012

February 2012

March 2012

April 2012

May 2012

June 2012

July 2012

August 2012

September 2012

October 2012

November 2012

December 2012

January 2013

February 2013

March 2013

April 2013

May 2013

June 2013

July 2013

August 2013

September 2013

October 2013

November 2013

December 2013

January 2014

February 2014

March 2014

April 2014

May 2014

June 2014

July 2014

August 2014

Septemeber 2014

October 2014

November 2014

December 2014

January 2015

February 2015

March 2015

April 2015

May 2015

June 2015

July 2015

August 2015

September 2015

October 2015

November 2015

December 2015

January 2016

February 2016

March 2016

April 2016

May 2016

June 2016

July 2016

August 2016

September-2016

October-2016

November-2016

December-2016

January-2017

February-2017

 

Further Reading

Three Gorges Dam to unleash more water to fight severe drought in parts of China

Drought-affected Yangtze River may be hazardous for shipping traffic: authorities

China Three Gorges to Raise Flow as Yangtze River Gets 40% Less Water

China Three Gorges Water Levels Falling Faster Than Expected

China closes stretch of Yangtze due to drought: report

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