Devastating floods in China place controversial Three Gorges Dam under surveillance

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The second highest rainfall that has submerged China in more than half a century has fueled new questions about the world’s largest hydroelectric plant, believed to help tame the floodwaters.

Since last month, at least 141 people have died and around 28,000 homes have been damaged in the Yangtze region, affecting nearly all of mainland China.

Deputy Minister of Emergency Management Zheng Guoguang told reporters on Monday that the Yangtze, Asia’s longest river and parts of its watershed, had recorded the second highest rainfall since 1961 in the past six month.

But after weeks of devastating floods, questions arise as to the impact of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze floods and whether the massive structure itself can be threatened.

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“One of the main justifications for the Three Gorges Dam was flood control, but less than 20 years after its completion, we have the highest flood water in history,” David Shankman told Reuters geographer at the University of Alabama who studies the Chinese floods. . “The fact is that it cannot prevent these serious events.”

The Three Gorges dam evacuates floods. City of Yichang, Hubei Province, China, July 2. The dam has been re-examined after devastating floods in recent weeks.
(Costfoto / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

The Three Gorges Dam was officially completed in 2006. Its electrical operation went online in 2012, and it is one of the most expensive and questionable development projects in China.

Some 1.4 million people have been relocated as a result of the huge project on the Yangtze River.

In this aerial photo published by the Xinhua news agency, a village was flooded on July 13 in the Sanjiao County of Yongxiu County, in east China's Jiangxi Province.

In this aerial photo published by the Xinhua news agency, a village was flooded on July 13 in the Sanjiao County of Yongxiu County, in east China’s Jiangxi Province.
(Zhang Haobo / Xinhua via AP)

The dam has also been touted as the best way to end centuries of flooding along the Yangtze and fuel the Chinese industrial boom. But some geologists have argued that damaging too much water in the reservoir carries an increased risk of earthquakes and prolonged damage to the ecology of the river.

Rescuers evacuate residents on a raft in the floodwaters of Jiujiang, central China's Jiangxi Province, July 8.

Rescuers evacuate residents on a raft in the floodwaters of Jiujiang, central China’s Jiangxi Province, July 8.
(Chinatopix via AP)

In 2012, the Department of Land Resources said the number of landslides and other disasters around the reservoir increased by 70% after the $ 23 billion project water level peaked in 2010 .

Critics of the project, like Chinese geologist Fan Xiao, said the three gorges and other large dam projects could worsen the floods by altering the flow of sedimentation along the river. He told Reuters that at Three Gorges, storage capacity represents less than 9% of average flood water.

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“It can only partially and temporarily intercept the floods upstream, and is powerless to help with the floods caused by heavy precipitation in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River,” he said.

In this photo published by the Xinhua News Agency, a man paddles an inflatable boat in front of submerged cars during a flood in Rongshui County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China, the 11 July.

In this photo published by the Xinhua News Agency, a man paddles an inflatable boat in front of submerged cars during a flood in Rongshui County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China, the 11 July.
(Long Linzhi / Xinhua via AP)

The damage from this season’s floods has been estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars, putting additional pressure on an economy deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Residents swim in front of a pavilion by the river submerged by the flooded Yangtze River in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, July 8.

Residents swim in front of a pavilion by the river submerged by the flooded Yangtze River in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province, July 8.
(Chinatopix via AP)

Hubei province, through which flows the Yangtze, is known for its many lakes and rivers and is particularly threatened. The provincial capital, Wuhan, was the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in China.

In this photo published by the Xinhua News Agency, Chinese paramilitary police line up to move sandbags to strengthen a seawall along the shores of Poyang Lake in Poyang County, Jiangxi Province, in is from China on July 12.

In this photo published by the Xinhua News Agency, Chinese paramilitary police line up to move sandbags to strengthen a seawall along the shores of Poyang Lake in Poyang County, Jiangxi Province, in is from China on July 12.
(Cao Xianxun / Xinhua via AP)

On Friday, a resident of Wuhan south of the dam released a video showing that the Yangtze River was well above average, even if it had not rained recently, reported the Nikki Asian Review.

Residents of the Yangtze River basin have expressed concern in recent weeks that the massive dam will be able to withstand more heavy rains, even though the authorities have released the structure’s floodwater.

State media said last week that since June 29, the flow of the Three Gorges Dam has been controlled at an average daily rate of 35,000 cubic meters per second, reducing up to 30% of the peak flow of the Yangtze.

The CGTN affirmed that it “had effectively relieved the pressure exerted by the control of the floods on the middle and the lower course of the river”.

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Chinese state media has dismissed concerns as “meditated by some Western media,” the Global Times says the dam is capable of reaching “once in a millennium” water level at 175 meters or sinking up to ‘at 70,000 cubic meters per second.

The company that manages the Three Gorges project said on Saturday that the downstream water discharges had been halved since July 6, “effectively reducing the speed and extent of water level rises on the sections middle and lower part of the Yangtze ”.

The total amount of flood water stored has now reached 88% of the total tank capacity, he added.

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But critics of the controversial project remain skeptical.

“With hindsight, I think all these experts who opposed the construction of the Three Gorges were right,” said Zhang Jianping, activist from Jiangsu, on Radio Free Asia. “Since its construction, it has never played a role in preventing floods or droughts, as we thought at the time. ”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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