Dam Harmless to Yangtze's Ecosystems

Liang Chao

The Three Gorges Project, the world's largest hydropower dam, will be environmentally friendly and will not destroy the ecological systems of the Yangtze River area, where the dam is being built, senior officials promised.

One official made it clear that the project's over 300-km-long reservoir "will never be turned into a huge cesspool as some foreigners have warned."

"Some people fear the project will harm the environment along the 6,400-km-long Yangtze," the world's third longest river.

Lu Youmei, general manager of the Three Gorges Yangtze Dam Project Development Corp, made these remarks at a Three Gorges Project workshop last weekend in Beijing.

In addition to the workshop, some 2,000 experts, of whom over half are from overseas, have gathered in Beijing for the 4-day 20th Congress of the International Commission on Large Dams, which was scheduled to open today.

Guo Shuyan, a leading official with the project's decision-making agency, Zhang Guangdou and Pan Jiazheng, professors and members of the China Academy of Sciences and Engineering, and Wang Jiazhu, vice-president of Lu's corporation, answered questions raised by foreign experts at the workshop.

The questions ranged from flood and sediment-control in the Three Gorges's reservoir to the protection of rare species of flora and fauna and cultural relics and the possibility of earthquakes.

Lu and his fellow experts admitted there are some disadvantages in the construction designs for the environment. However, he said "China is able to mitigate the negative effects they may have.”

About 450 billion cubic meters of water flow along the Yangtze every year. The reservoir behind the Three Gorges dam will store about 40 billion cubic meters of water.

The government has already worked out rules to ensure that sewage is treated before it enters the river and to prohibit the build-up of rubbish along the banks of the river, Lu said.

Lu's remarks were seconded by Guo Shuyan, deputy-director of the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee under the State Council, which gave the final go-ahead for the project.

In addition to closing hundreds of polluting enterprises and factories along the Yangtze, China has also begun the planting of a massive forest belt on the upper reaches on the Yangtze to protect against soil erosion, said Guo Shuyan.

To help improve the quality of the water and conserve the soil on the upper reaches of the Yangtze, the central government poured a record 720 million yuan (US$87 million) into the forest belt last year alone, Guo confirmed.

The government is also intensifying the implementation of laws to ensure the proper protection of the cultural relics that will be covered by the waters of the reservoir.

It is estimated that at least 1,200 key cultural relics and historic sites have been listed under the State protection plan.

On the project's impact on Chinese Sturgeon, a rare and ancient species of fish under State protection, Lu was confident that "the fish will not become extinct," as China has built a research base to breed the fish.

People feared the fish had already become extinct as it was prevented from traveling up the river to spawn by the Gezhouba Hydropower Project, another dam across the river 40 km downstream of the Three Gorges site.

However, hundreds of thousands of artificially spawned sturgeon have been put into the Yangtze every year since the Gezhouba dam was built, and new pawning areas have now been established downstream. As such, the fish has survived despite the dam. Experts were confident that the species will also survive the Three Gorges dam.

Pan Jiazheng, an senior expert, said the dam has been designed to withstand an earthquake of up to 7 on the Richter scale, which is stronger than any quake that has ever occurred in the area.

Wang Jiazhu explained the flood-control and sediment-reduction mechanisms and some other key technological challenges that the project may face have aroused strong concern all over the world.

Zhang Guangdou said China now has the technological and financial capabilities for such a huge project, which needs an investment of 200 billion yuan (US$24 billion).

About 28 percent of the money has already been invested and 35 percent of the project has been completed.

So far, the money going into the project has been controlled well. Lu confirmed that no financing problems have occurred for the project since it officially began in 1994.

(China Daily)

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