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China's Three Gorges Dam a Geological Disaster

Environmentalist Dai Qing Explains Failings

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China has more dams than any other country in the world and is now in the process of building the world's largest dam -- Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. The dam was envisioned as a historical monument by China's technocratic leaders, intended to "bend nature to their will." According to Dai Qing, the author of Yangtze! Yangtze!,  "It will certainly be the world's most expensive project." She explained the cost is not only monetary but can be counted in lives lost and the devastation it is causing to the environment.  

Dai Qing's gave a talk, "The Three Gorges Dam: China's Environmental and Political Crisis," as part of the Levitt Center spring series on "The Environment:  Public Policy and Social Responsibility." She outlined the goals set forward for the dam when it was started in the 1970s: to create hydroelectric power, provide flood control and improve navigable shipping routes on the Yangtze River.  She then systematically showed why this mammoth project, that has already cost more than $22 billion, is failing.

She explained that the 1998 Yangtze Valley floods demonstrated how inadequate the capacity of the dam was to control flooding. Through information she obtained from "leaked" documents of an official feasibility study, Dai Qing said not only did the tributaries lower down mean the dam was useless but the capacity of the dam didn't come close to being able to handle the volume of water in flood conditions.

Using the example of another large dam in China, she demonstrated why the hydroelectricity part of the project will fail also. She concluded, "The price of hydroelectricity (from the dam) is so expensive consumers won't buy it." 
 
Dai Qing said the Yangtze River has been called the 'Golden Channel' and is too important a water way to suffer interference. On one occasion when water levels fell, making navigation difficult, after some frantic requests from shippers, more water was released from the reservoir. Dai Qing said that serious problems will arise if authorities are reluctant or even unable to release the water necessary to keep the Yangtze navigable.

Calling the Three Gorges Dam a "geological disaster," she showed images of land slides, riverbank collapse, muddy run-off and pollutants that are the direct result of the project.  With all the additional cost of trying to fix these problems, Dai Qing said, "The world's biggest dam is likely to be a bottomless black pit."

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