The Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest hydropower project and most notorious dam. The massive project sets records for number of people displaced (more than 1.2 million), number of cities and towns flooded (13 cities, 140 towns, 1,350 villages), and length of reservoir (more than 600 kilometers).
The project has been plagued by corruption, spiraling costs, technological problems, human rights violations and resettlement difficulties.
For over three decades the Chinese government dismissed warnings from scientists and environmentalists that its Three Gorges Dam—the world’s largest—had the potential of becoming one of China’s biggest environmental nightmares.
But last fall, denial suddenly gave way to reluctant acceptance that the naysayers were right.
Chinese officials staged a sudden about-face, acknowledging for the first time that the massive hydroelectric dam, sandwiched between breathtaking cliffs on the Yangtze River in central China, may be triggering landslides, altering entire ecosystems and causing other serious environmental problems—and, by extension, endangering the millions who live in its shadow.
- The Three Gorges Dam will consist of a 610-foot high wall running 1.3 miles from bank to bank.
- The reservoir created by the backflow of the dam will extend 360 miles up river to Chongqing (“Chong-ching”), a distance equal to nearly half the length of California.
- Once operational, the dam will produce the energy of 15 nuclear power plants.
- The project is estimated to be completed in 2009 at a cost of over $30 billion.
- In the past 2,000 years, the Yangtze River has experienced 215 catastrophic floods.
- In 1998 flooding in the area expected to be controlled by the dam resulted in 4,000 dead, 14 million left homeless and $24 billion in economic loss.
- When the dam is completed, 13 cities, 140 towns and over 1,300 villages will be submerged by the Three Gorges Reservoir.
- To make way for the Three Gorges Dam, 1.5 million people will have to abandon their homes. More than 160,000 citizens have already been relocated.
- Upon the dam’s completion, 1,300 known archeological sites will be lost forever under water.
- Over 265 billion gallons of raw sewage are dumped into the Yangtze annually. Currently the river flushes this downstream and out into the ocean. Upon completion of the Three Gorges project, the sewage will back up in the reservoir.
- Over 1,600 factories and abandoned mines will be submerged when the dam is completed. Environmentalists predict that toxins associated with industry and mining will create a hazard for the animals and people who depend on the river for survival.
- Over 700 million tons of sediment are deposited into the Yangtze annually, making it the fourth largest sediment carrier in the world. Experts believe that this sediment will build up behind the dam, with only an unproven system of sluice gates to release it.
- Over 360 million people live within the watershed of the Yangtze River. If the one in one thousand chance of a dam collapse occured, the millions of people who live downstream would be endangered.