Safety concerns cloud Three Gorges Dam as PRC deluged with storms
Weeks of unrelenting rain and deadly flooding in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) once again are raising concerns over the structural integrity of the controversial Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric plant.
The 2,335-meter-long dam spans the Yangtze River in central China’s Hubei province. The provincial capital of Wuhan, where the COVID-19 virus first emerged, increased its flood alert system to the second-highest level July 6, 2020, Reuters reported.
A few days earlier, PRC officials admitted releasing floodwaters from the dam. The discharge, the first of 2020, was to ease flooding in the lower Yangtze, the state-controlled China Global Television Network claimed. (Pictured: Floodwaters are discharged from Three Gorges Dam on July 2, 2020.)
The official admission came days after videos appeared on social media platforms showing devastating flooding in Yichang, a city about 40 kilometers downstream from Three Gorges. Residents contended their homes and safety were being sacrificed to save the megadam from a catastrophic collapse, the Taiwan News website reported June 30.
New fears over the dam’s viability come a year after Chinese social media users posted satellite images showing apparent warping of the mammoth concrete structure. The dam’s state-owned operator denied any deformity and said the horizontal and vertical “displacement” were within design guidelines.
Hundreds of millions of people live downstream from Three Gorges Dam, which has been called “a model for disaster” by the nonprofit environmental group International Rivers.
The latest flooding left more than 120 people dead or reported missing in the PRC’s swamped provinces as of July 6, 2020, The Associated Press reported. Tens of thousands of residents were evacuated and 17,000 homes were destroyed, with damages estimated at U.S. $5.9 billion.
Several Chinese provinces were placed on heightened flood alert in early July, according to the PRC’s state-controlled Xinhua news agency: “Heavy downpours have been ravaging a large part of China, affecting millions of people and causing vast economic losses.”
Officials with the China Meteorological Administration said June 2020 rainfall was 13.5% above average. “Heavy rainfall may be the first step in a chain of disasters,” senior forecaster Chen Tao was quoted as saying on the agency’s website, according to Reuters.
First conceived of a century ago as a means of controlling flooding along the Yangtze, Three Gorges Dam has sparked controversy since before construction began in the early 1990s. The World Bank declined to help fund the project, in part, because of environmental concerns. More than 1 million people were displaced and about 1,500 villages, towns and cities vanished as dam building flooded the area.
“With hindsight, I think that all of those experts who opposed the building of the Three Gorges were right,” Zhang Jianping, a human rights activist in Jiangsu province, where the Yangtze empties into the East China Sea, told Radio Free Asia in late June 2020. “Since it was built, it has never played a role in preventing flooding or droughts like we thought it would back then.”