Fifteen years after construction began, the reservoir of the Three Gorges Dam will reach its final height of 175 meters in early November. International Rivers calls for the following lessons to be drawn from the world’s largest and most controversial hydropower project:
- The massive social and environmental impacts of the Three Gorges Dam should be independently evaluated before new mega-dams are built on the Yangtze River. More than 100 dams are currently being planned or built on the world’s third-longest river and its tributaries.
- The 1.3 million people who were displaced by the Three Gorges reservoir should be retroactively compensated for their losses. Compensation payments have been routinely embezzled, and the promised jobs and replacement lands mostly failed to materialize. The government began compensating past victims of dam displacement in 2006, but the Three Gorges resettlers have still not gotten a fair deal.
- The flaws of China’s environmental laws need to be addressed. Environmental impact assessments need to be carried out before hydropower projects are started, and violations of environmental laws need to be sanctioned more rigorously.
- Improving China’s energy efficiency would have been cheaper and cleaner than building the Three Gorges Dam. In recent years, the government has aggressively promoted energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. China deserves international support for this approach, for example through an exemption of green energy technologies from patent protection in developing countries.
“The Three Gorges Dam is a model of the past,” comments Peter Bosshard, the Policy Director of International Rivers. “Its impacts need to be independently evaluated before more dams are being built on the Yangtze River. There are smarter ways of generating energy and managing floods than by building outdated mega-projects.”
With a capacity of 18,200 megawatts, the Three Gorges Project is the world’s largest hydropower project. Its cost has been officially indicated as $27 billion, and has been unofficially estimated at $88 billion. The 660 kilometers-long reservoir has submerged 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,350 villages.
The Three Gorges Dam has massively altered the Yangtze River’s ecosystem. It has driven fish species to extinction, is causing frequent toxic algae blooms, and let commercial fisheries plummet. The operation of the reservoir is causing erosion and frequent landslides. An additional 500,000 people will have to be displaced to stabilize the slopes of the Yangtze Valley.
Read Three Gorges Dam: A Model of the Past, a new factsheet on the legacy of the Three Gorges Dam.
View Three Gorges Dam: Through the Lens of the Artist, a musical composition and slideshow of paintings and photographs inspired by the Three Gorges Dam.
International Rivers is an environmental and human rights organization with staff in four continents. For over two decades, International Rivers has been at the heart of the global struggle to protect rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them.
- Read Peter Bosshard’s travel diary about traveling down the Yangtze.
- Read the Xinhua article, “Three Gorges Corp. defends reservoir plan amid drought debate”
- Read the latest on the problem of Reservoir-Induced Seismicity (or RIS) in China and worldwide.
- Read a New York Times article about the social and environmental problems with the Three Gorges Dam.
- Read a Science news article on the environmental challenges to the Three Gorges Dam.
- Watch our videos on the Three Gorges Dam.
- Learn more about Three Gorges Dam on Google Earth