China’s Three Gorges Dam and the Environmental Management Approach in Its Construction Essay

1. Introduction

Spanning the Yangtze River at Sandouping, Yichang, Hubei province, China, the Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. [1]The dam’s construction began in 1993 and began filling on the 1st of June, 2003 although the structural work was completed nine months before schedule, on May, 20th, 2006. Following the installation of 26 generators after the year 2006, the dam is now fully operational. The major 20th century project drew extensive controversy over the costs and benefits. Analysts indicates that although there exists multiple potential benefits from hydroelectric power and flood control, the future of millions of people displaced by rising waters and those who live in the dam’s environs remains uncertain, furthermore critics affirm that valuable cultural and archeological sites were lost during the project. [2]Environmental impacts also remain a critical source of contention arising from the project’s construction.

China’s Conservation Ethic (Add Something)
Johannes (1994) defines conservation ethic as ‘the awareness of one’s ability to deplete or otherwise damage natural resources, coupled with a commitment to reduce or eliminate the problem.’ [3]As a matter of government policy, the Chinese government stipulates that any projects within its territorial boundaries must be governed by a spirit of responsibility and pride to advance the betterment of the world while at the same time keeping strictly to ethics and morals.
b. Thesis Statement

The enormous scale of construction and the projection of the dam that sets a mark in human history undoubtedly deserve attention and administration. However, the social, economic and environmental ramification through the construction raises concerns over the management of the project’s aftermath.

2. Key Facts and Figures

a. History

[4]Building of the dam for the purposes of power generation on the yangtze River was fist proposed by Sun Yat-sen in 1919 and the first survey of the proposed site undertaken by the National Defense Planning Commission under the Kuomintang. Following the survey and due to unfavorable economic and political conditions, the idea was shelved until a series of major floods resurrected it leading to its formal adoption by the People’s Republic of China in 1954. Due to the dual functions of power generation and floods control the idea was reconsidered in 1963 although it was sidetracked following the cultural revolution of 1966 with fears that the Soviet Union could sabotage it. According to Jianguo, Jianhui, Xingguo, Zongqiang, Xianming, following economic reforms introduced in 1978, the Chinese government established the need for more electric power within the country’s national grid prompting the State Council to approve the dam’s construction in 1979. A feasibility study conducted in 1982 and 1983 made critics who had earlier on complained that the project did not adequately address environmental, social and technical issue, appeased.

[5]Furthermore, the Canadian International Project Managers Yangtze Joint Venture which was a consortium of five Canadian International Project Managers conducted further feasibility studies proposing that the proposed Dam’s height be increased. Although a new feasibility study was conducted in 1986, the project was stopped for five years in 1989 following heavy criticism from environmentalists on the perceived adverse environmental costs and effects. This was also prompted by much domestic and international pressure for example, much opposition was evident in the infamous Tiananmen Square incident after which the Chinese government illegalized any public debate on the dam, imprisoned Dai Qing who was a notable critic of the project and blamed foreign critics for intending to undermine the progress initiated by the regime. In 1992, the project was passed by the National People’s Congress, resettlement began immediately and the construction started in 1994.

[6]Critics have noted that the project was shoddy, marred by corruption and poor resource allocation. Research also indicate that international engineers had violated their ethical and professional codes which made it mandatory for them to be realistic and rational when preparing statements, reports, testimonies and estimates. They have therefore been accused of negligence, incompetence and professional misconduct. Hanying and Qun affirms that to show dissatisfaction with the project, a team of 53 engineers petitioned President Zemin Jiang to delay the filling of reservoir until sedimentation was resolved. On completion on the October, 30th, 2008, the dam remains the world’s largest electricity generating plant.

b. Facts & Statistics

The project overtook Syncrude Tailings dam in Canada as the largest by volume, the Rogun Dam in Tajikistan as the tallest and the Itaipu Dam situated on the Paraguay and Brazil border as the largest hydroelectric plant. The Dam has over 34 generators and consists of a 610 foot high wall running 1.3 mile from bank to bank. The reservoir extends 360 miles up river Chongqing and is estimated to have energy production capacity equivalent to over 15 nuclear plants. Varied cost estimates have been presented with Samuel, Holland and Grove putting the cost at $30, $27 and $24 Billion respectively.

Jianguo, Jianhui, Xingguo, Zongqiang, Xianming affirm that although its original budget was $ 25 billion, the project is thought of to have been the most expensive single construction project in Chinese construction industry  and may probably have cost over US$ 75 billion. Hanying and Qun estimates that over 1,600 abandoned mines and factories were submerged and over 700 million tons of sediment are deposited annually into the river. An estimated 360 million people live within the watershed of the Yangtze river hence should the dam collapse, millions of people who live downstream are endangered.

3. Benefits

a. Functions & Benefits
i. Economic Benefits

            The dam is expected to have considerable economic benefits for years to come. It is estimated that the dam supplies between 4 and 6% of China’s electricity needs thereby increasing supply to meet the rising demand in the country’s national transmission grid. It is estimated that the dam’s power generating capacity from its 26,700 megawatt turbine generator will be equivalent to the burning of 40 millions tons of coal or the power generated by 18 nuclear plants.

The project remains the world’s largest hydroelectric power station with a generating capacity of over twenty six thousand Mega watts  Furthermore, the project’s supporters have affirmed that the installation of ship locks involved in the project will serve to increase shipping within the river to 50 million tons up from 10 million. It is further estimated that the transportation cost will be cut by between 30 and 37 percent besides supporters affirm that shipping within the region would become safer, unlike the pre-construction period in which the region was notoriously dangerous to navigate.

ii. Environmental

[7]Key expected benefits as advanced by the its defenders include much cleaner environment since the dam will replace coal burning which china has heavily relied on for decades with much cleaner and more efficient hydroelectric power. The dam is further expected to reduce green house gas emission thereby protecting the ozone layer furthermore; supporters note that the dam has none of the radiation hazards associated with nuclear plants.  The dam has been hailed for its potential contribution to flood and drought control within the region. Having a 22.1 billion cubic meter reservoirs’ flood storage capacity, flooding frequency will lessen with experts noting that this will reduce to once in every 100 years up from 1 in every 10 years prior to its construction.

[8]The reservoir’s storage capacity is estimated at 22 square kilometers, a capacity that can effectively control floods. The project is also expected to have a major impact on drought control for example; it is believed that the dam discharges its water reserves during the dry seasons of March and December thereby increasing water flow rates into the downstream tributaries. The water is thereafter used for agricultural and industrial purposes furthermore; navigation is not interfered with during the dry season. Supporters also affirm that the Asia Pacific region will gain an estimated 6000 square miles of forestry following the construction of the dam. Critics however affirm that there were net losses of up to 13,000 square kilometers of forest as a result of the dam’s construction. The 1998 floods which devastated the Yangtze’s basin were blamed on the depletion of tree cover during the construction of the project.

iii. Social

There are a number of social benefits that have been ascribed to the Three gorges project. The Chinese government affirmed that the resettlement as a result of the construction would spur growth within the region. The government also affirmed that planned resettlement as a result of the dam would offer an opportunity for more organized settlement.

            a. Problems & Costs

The Three Gorge’s hydroelectric project has been cited as having many environmental and social problems surrounding its construction. Negative view points such as pollution, forced relocation, cultural and environmental loses have been cited.

i. Environmental

Environmentalists have noted that the massive Yangtze river is slowly becoming a dead river, with massive pollution from industrial wastes being dumped along its banks. Hanying, Mao and Qun, Gao documents that the river is slowly becoming the world’s biggest sewage. It is estimated that in excess of 265 billion gallons of raw sewage are dumped into the river annually, sewage that back up into the reservoir.  dam has interfered with the natural beauty of the Yangtze river. According to Fearnside, a number of extremely endangered species have had their habitats either carved into half or completely destroyed.

The habitats of extremely endangered species such as the Chinese Paddlefish, the Siberian Crane and the Yangtze River Dolphin have also been destroyed by the project. Many species of fish and foul are threatened with extinction.  Environmentalists also affirm that the dam has forever changed the hydrology of the river which spans thousands of miles. The project is believed to have destroyed fish stocks and cut water supplies to the complex floodplain agricultural system thereby interfering with the livelihood of over 75 million people who have farmed and fished along the banks of river Yangtz. Geologists have also noted that the Three Gorges Dam is a disaster waiting to happen as it is located near seismic fault lines.

Critics further affirm that such a massive dam could increase seismic activity within the region furthermore they note that its construction is substandard, hence its potential to withstand a major earthquake remains a matter of intense speculation. The dam’s proximity to some of Chinese most populated areas would make it the worst man made disaster in the history of mankind should it burst.  Experts further believe that sediments that have been trapped behind the dam will certainly erode dykes and banks thereby causing flooding. Along the 500 kilometer coastline, lack of sediments will interfere with the mudflats which protect the rising tides hence could lead to flooding.

ii. Social

The massive project which flooded 600 kilometers along the Yangtze River in both Sichuan and Hubei Provinces displaced between 1.3 and 1.5 million people from towns, villages, farms and cities, a trend that is expected to continue over some time. Based on social concerns, international credit agencies declined to support the project with Canada being the only country that provided export credit funding for the project. The World Bank, the American export Credit agency Ex-Im Bank and other international development agencies declined to support the project citing discrepancy in social and Environmental procedures and guidelines.

 According to Fearnside, that over 1200 towns and villages have been submerged under the rising waters of the dam’s reservoir furthermore, people have been moved from fertile land to much crappier ones. The project has further been estimated to cover over 1300 known archaeological sites, besides although some were moved, their grandeur, size and design could not be replicated. Experts affirm that archeological sites some of which dates back to 10,000 BC were submerged.

Critics have also noted that the project’s expected flood control benefits have been exaggerated, politically motivated and scientifically unsubstantiated. Millions of people living along the reservoir are threatened by the massive silt load dropped by the fast moving Yangtze river into the slow moving waters of the reservoirs. It is estimated that the river will add 530 million tons of silt into the reservoir annually hence the dam’s effectiveness in preventing floods will be eroded furthermore Holland and Rawles affirm that sedimentation could increase flooding. Therefore, the mud banks created have potential of causing massive floods hence millions of people who have settled on the flood plains of the yangtze river live in a false sense of security following the risk of floods. The project has also elicited massive national security concerns. Experts argue that any threat to the three Gorges Dam would is adequate to deter Chinese military coercion.

4. Government Action

a. Pre-construction

Prior to its construction, the Chinese government promoted the infrastructure as the largest integrated water project ever to be built in the history of the world noting that the project had untold environmental, economic and social benefits. The Chinese government argued that any opposition to the construction of the dam was an obstruction to the world’s most populous nation from joining the developed world. Prior to its construction, the Chinese government involved Canada furthermore; the country provided 14 million Canadian Dollars towards conducting a feasibility study on the project; with its findings indicating that the project was both economically viable and safe.

Critics have however noted that China was already determined to complete the project hence Canada was only to determine how to build the dam not whether the project was feasible or not. The government commissioned studies by a number of agencies, commissions and academies for example, considerable research was undertaken by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the State Environmental Protection Agency and other international bodies. The Chinese government’s pre-construction efforts also involved the mobilization of resources; managing to gain funding from; the Three Gorges Dam Fund, Revenue Gezhouba POWER Plan, policy loans from the China Development Bank, Loans from domestic foreign commercial banks, corporate bond and a 12 billion USD from tax on the household electricity.

b. Post-construction

With the project completed, there has been considerable shift to post-construction management, with management responsibility given to the State Council Three Gorge Project Construction Committee Executive office. The government post construction strategies will include taking care of post settlement needs of the people who were relocated during the construction of the project, geological disaster protection and environmental protection work. According to the committee, post construction plans were developed using an elaborate strategic approach and following a planning phase that lasted two years. Post-construction work is estimated to be $14.48 billion of which $5.59 billion would go to environmental protection.

5. Conclusion

a. Change of Conservation Ethic

Presently, the dam project is more or less complete; it remains a fact that considerable proportion of the countries fisheries, habitats and biological diversity was depleted by the Dam project. [9]It remains the responsibility of the Chinese government to protect the remaining biodiversity from extinction furthermore; the government must educate habitats of regions near the dam to implement the four R’s strategies of Reducing, Reusing, Rethinking and Recycle. Massive industrial wastes that are emptied into the dam must be controlled to prevent harm to the common resource water and air quality thereby protecting residents. As a recommendation, the government should study conservation efforts of other regions, mobilize funds and other resources to address the conservation problems arising from the Dam’s construction.

b. Sustainable Development Now

Subsequent to the project’s completion, the Chinese government must ensure sustainable development by ensuring that the dam not only fulfills human needs but that the government protects the natural environment. The Chinese government has recently called on a more balanced development aimed at how to preserve the natural ecosystem around the dam. Recently, the government called for a green mix growth with Primer Wen Jiabao declaring that more scientific development in Chinese approach to any potential environmental problems arising from the dam’s construction. Green activists have recommended that the Chinese government seek alternative ways of generating electric power that would be cost effective. They observe that, despite the massive investment, an estimated 25 billion dollars, the project generates only 4% of China’s electricity. The Chinese government adopted a five year plan in 2006 to improve the use of its energy and natural resources seeking to reduce its energy per GDP by 20%.

Conclusively, the Three Georges Dam in China having been completed together with a vast array of peripheral projects is undoubtedly the largest water supply development project in the history of mankind. True to its size, the project has significant costs and benefits with the most significant benefits being generation of electricity while limiting green gas emission, potential reduction in flood risk and improvement in navigation. The most significant costs remains massive relocation of over 1.3 million Chinese and an extensive ecological degradation of the Yangtze river fisheries and ecosystem, potential inducement of seismicity and a reduction of sedimentation into the East China sea. At present however, we may still not conclusively establish whether the environmeral, social, political and economic benefits outweighs the cost.

Works Cited

Boxer, Baruch. “China’s Three Gorges Dam: Questions and Prospects” The China

Quarterly, 113(1998), 94-108.

Fearnside, M. Philip. “China’s Three Gorges Dam: “Fatal” project or step toward

Modernization?” World Development, 16(5), 615-630.

Gleick, H. Peter. Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, China. (Water Brief 3,

2008)

Grove, H. Richard. (1997) Ecology, Climate and Empire: Colonialism and Global
Environmental History 1400-1940 Cambridge: Whitehorse Press
Hanying, Mao and Qun, Gao. “Ecological restoration, social-economic changes and
sustainable development in the Three Gorges Reservoir area: A case study in Yunyang, Chongqing Municipality” International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology, 14(2) 174-181.
Holland, Alan and Rawles, Kate. The Ethics of Conservation. (British Association of
Nature Conservationists, 1996).
Jianguo Wu, Jianhui Huang, Xingguo Han, Xianming Gao, Fangliang He, Mingxi Jiang,

Zhigang Jiang, Richard B. Primack, Zehao Shen (2004) “The Three Gorges Dam: an ecological perspective.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment: 2, (5), 241-248.

Jianguo Wu, Jianhui Huang, Xingguo Han, Zongqiang Xie, Xianming
Gao. “Three-Gorges Dam–Experiment in Habitat Fragmentation?” Science, 300 (2003), 1239-1240.
Samuel, R. F. Allin. An Examination of China’s Three Gorges Dam Project Based on the

Framework Presented in the Report of The World Commission on Dams. (Blacksburg, VA, 2004)

[1] Samuel, R. F. Allin. An Examination of China’s Three Gorges Dam Project Based on

the Framework Presented in the Report of The World Commission on Dams. (Blacksburg, VA, 2004)
[2] Fearnside, M. Philip. “China’s Three Gorges Dam: “Fatal” project or step toward

Modernization?” World Development, 16(5), 615-630.
[3]Holland, Alan and Rawles, Kate. The Ethics of Conservation. (British Association of
Nature Conservationists, 1996).
[4] Gleick, H. Peter. Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, China. (Water Brief 3,

2008)

[5] Boxer, Baruch. “China’s Three Gorges Dam: Questions and Prospects” The China

Quarterly, 113(1998), 94-108.
[6] Jianguo Wu, Jianhui Huang, Xingguo Han, Xianming Gao, Fangliang He, Mingxi Jiang,

Zhigang Jiang, Richard B. Primack, Zehao Shen (2004) “The Three Gorges Dam: an ecological perspective.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment: 2, (5), 241-248.

[7] Hanying, Mao and Qun, Gao. “Ecological restoration, social-economic changes and
sustainable development in the Three Gorges Reservoir area: A case study in Yunyang, Chongqing Municipality” International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology, 14(2) 174-181.
[8] Jianguo Wu, Jianhui Huang, Xingguo Han, Zongqiang Xie, Xianming
Gao. “Three-Gorges Dam–Experiment in Habitat Fragmentation?” Science, 300 (2003), 1239-1240.

[9] Grove, H. Richard. (1997) Ecology, Climate and Empire: Colonialism and Global
Environmental History 1400-1940 Cambridge: Whitehorse Press