The construction of the massive Three Gorges Hydropower Project is in its final stages with the project due to complete in November 2009. Attention is now shifting from construction to operational management and detailed work on post construction plans is in full swing.
The Yangtze River Water Resources Commission is carrying out the planning under the direction of the State Council Three Gorge Project Construction Committee Executive Office. According to Commission Director Cai Qihua, the post-construction work includes taking care of post-settlement needs of people relocated as a result of the project, environmental protection work, and geological disaster prevention.
Cai says the post-construction plans are very complex and require a strategic approach. Each item will need careful research before being carried out and the planning phase may take as long as two years.
He adds that it is too early put a figure on the cost of post-construction work, but a research report published in 2008 estimates the investment required at 98.9 billion yuan (US$14.48 billion) of which 38.2 billion yuan (US$5.59 billion) would be spent on environmental protection.
The Three Gorges flood control and electricity generation projects are complete. Power generated by the dam principally supplies central and eastern China.
The power station has so far generated 300 billion kwh of electricity, equivalent to daily revenue of 80 million yuan (US$11.71 million). Since it began generating electricity, the station has significantly eased power supply problems in eastern China.
Former head of the Yangtze Water Resource Commission Weng Lida tells Caijing magazine that the quality of the dam's construction and its economic benefits are beyond doubt. The controversies surrounding the project concern its impact on the Yangtze's eco-environment, since the gigantic dam divides the river into two parts, and inevitably has a major impact on water flows. Completion of the construction phase does not mean the end of the entire project, and environmental protection will require continuous effort and attention, says Weng.
Weng notes that back in 1991 the Yangtze Water Resource Commission research institute and the Chinese Academy of Sciences were divided on the benefits of the dam, but in 1992 the State Environmental Protection Agency (now the Ministry of Environmental Protection) came down in favor of the project while warning of the need to constantly monitor environmental issues and take corrective action.
The post-construction plan is not limited to the immediate areas of the dam but covers a much wider area including Dongting Lake and Poyang Lake, China's largest freshwater lakes.
The dam has reduced the amount of silt in downstream waters and changed the relationship between the Yangtse River and Dongting and Poyang Lakes. Downstream channels are becoming narrower and steeper and there is a risk that rock falls caused by faster flowing water may interfere with navigation.
Cai Qihua says one of the benefits of the dam is that it will prolong the life of Dongting Lake. From 1956 to 2005, the average annual silt deposit in Dongting Lake was 105 million tons, while from 2003 to 2005, when the dam began to have an effect, the figure fell by 90 percent to 10 million tons.
"We have always known the Three Gorges project would affect downstream channels," says Cai Qihua, adding that the authorities have so far invested 150 million yuan (US$21.96 million) on water channel maintenance, and set aside a further 980 million yuan (US$143.48 million) for future channel safety work.
(China.org.cn by Maverick Chen, April 13, 2009)