3 Gorges Dam
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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 project:China 3 Gorges dam artist concept.jpg (13909 bytes)

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 country.

The scope of the project includes:

Dam - Build a dam across the Yangtse China Yangtse high bridge.jpg (15208 bytes)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 investors.
  • 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 growing economy.
  • +It will reduce the risk of devastating floods for millions of people below the dam.
  • +It will provide water for Beijing and vicinity
  • -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 treatment plants.
 

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.

 
 

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