This is the biggest hydroelectric
project in the world today, surrounded by controversy and apparently backed
halfheartedly by the Chinese government. By any measure, it is HUGE!
The objectives of the 3 Gorges Dam on the Yangtse River are:
Flooding - Eliminate flooding downstream that affects
over 15M people every 5-10 years.
Power - Provide power to a large portion of the
The scope of the project includes:
Dam - Build a dam across the Yangtse that
will raise the water level above the dam by about 100 m (330'). Bridges such
as the one to the right will be flooded and must be replaced.
Generators - Install 28 generators to create
electricity. They will be in the middle of the dam where the water pours
through in the artist's concept above.
Towns - Build new towns (dozens as far as we could
see) for 1.5M people who will be displaced by water in the reservoir,
move them from existing towns, and demolish the old towns. Build new bridges
and highways for those that will be flooded. In addition, build a town to
house all 24,000 workers and ancillary facilities and demolish it at the
conclusion of the project.
Locks - Build 2 sets of locks so that ships can
navigate around the dam and build an elevator that can lift small (<80')
ships directly into the reservoir. The locks can be seen on the artist's
concept above, on the right of the drawing.
Some of the factoids:
- It was approved on 3 April, 1992 and is
planned to be completed in 2009.
- Will be the largest dam/hydroelectric power
station in the world when complete.
- It will be able to provide 18.2 billion watts or 15% of
China’s electricity; 12 times the output of Niagara Falls.
- It will provide drinking water for Beijing.
- 90% will be financed by China, 10% by foreign
- The biggest problem will be sediment from
up-river erosion; they will attempt to control this by periodic flushing and
building sediment-catching dams upstream.
- It will have a main 3-lock system to allow
2-way traffic of large ships and a ship elevator to handle smaller ships
(our cruise ship is the largest of the ‘small’ ships it can handle).
- They have built a bypass channel for ships to
use while construction of the dam proceeds.
Pros and Cons:
- +It will provide lots of electricity for a
- +It will reduce the risk of devastating floods
for millions of people below the dam.
- +It will provide water for Beijing and
- -It will exterminate the pink dolphins that
live in the river.
- -It will endanger the sturgeon that lives in
the river since no fish ladders are being built.
- -It will displace 1.5M people.
- +The 1.5M displaced people will receive
villages and factories with wide streets, modern conveniences, and water
Bottom Line - Since the Chinese government did not
involve us in the decision process, our view is unofficial, but in the net, it
appears that the benefits outweigh the costs. Sediment filling up the
reservoir is probably the biggest risk, but many dams have faced that
problem and worked out ways to resolve it. After discussing this at length, we returned
to watching the Yangtse river go by.