A State Council meeting last week admitted that The Three Gorges Dam, while fulfilling an indispensable role, had caused environmental problems and hurt immigration welfare.
The meeting, alongside severe drought in the Yangtze River, sparked another round of criticism over one of the most complex hydropower stations in China. From extreme weather to increased earthquakes in central China, the Three Gorges Dam is being blamed for various kinds of natural damage. The professionalism of this project is facing a crisis of trust.
However, prior to construction, the project had undergone more than 20 years of feasibility studies. Contradictory opinions, mainly from environmentalists, were heard publicly. The final approval was given by the National People's Congress.
Controversy indeed surrounded the Three Gorges Dam from the beginning, but this was not a decision taken on a whim.
Whether the ecological deterioration along the Yangtze River was caused by the Three Gorges Dam needs a long observation and scientific review. Granted, a construction on the scale of the Three Gorges Dam cannot avoid having an environmental impact.
But the various pros and cons should not blindly overwhelm one another. Other factors such as the increasing water demand of a booming economy and rising living standards have also contributed to the drought.
The implication of the hydropower station is under fierce public debate. However, the situation of China's mounting demand for energy is key to its economic activity. Other options, such as thermal or nuclear power, also have side effects on the environment.
The media is now overwhelmed by criticism of the Three Gorges Dam. This is understandable but it is somewhat too complement to blame insufficient public debate prior to its construction. But among engineers and hydrologists, views are rather diversified and rational.
The Three Gorges Dam is there, and is impossible to tear down. The severe doubts lingering over it, even though overdue, should be turned into a meaningful learning process toward rational debate.
Given China's size, it will take on future constructions on a similar scale. Mistakes may be hard to avoid in the beginning. China needs more self-criticism, but not self-denial.