Three Gorges Dam
Three Gorges Dam China Construction, For Good or Bad?
The Three Gorges Dam is in Xiling Gorge. This is the most easterly of the gorges and the furthest downstream. This means that the huge reservoir created by the 3 Gorges Dam construction reaches back upstream all the way through the gorges themselves.
The main purpose behind building the China Three Gorges Dam was flood prevention. Devastating floods in China have periodically caused widespread death and destruction along the lower reaches of the Yangtze River.
During the 1954 floods in China an estimated 30,000 people lost their lives. Through the years even worse inundations have led to more deaths than that. The last major flood took place in 1998 as the dam was still being constructed.
Although flood prevention was very desirable, the project had a huge amount of opposition, not only in China, but throughout the world.
Most of the concern was regarding the loss of centuries old sites of importance upriver and also the impact on the Three Gorges. For many years the Three Gorges in China have been a major tourist attraction for people from all over the world. Any possible loss of tourism to the region would badly affect the income of many Chinese.
The proper relocation of the thousands of ordinary people was also a great concern. Many western governments thought China`s human rights record was less than perfect!
Construction began at the end of 1994. Three years later the waters of the Yangtze River were diverted behind a huge, temporary "coffer dam." This structure was 580 metres long and 140 metres high. The river was diverted to run along a canal 2.3 miles long.
Once the river had been diverted, the foundations for the Three Gorges Dam could be built right across the now dry river bed.
The dimensions of the 3 Gorges Dam are simply incredible. It is 2335 metres (7661 feet) long and 181 metres (594 feet) high. To give you some comparison, that is as high as a sixty story building.
The main wall of the Three Gorges Dam, China was completed in May 2006, which was a number of months ahead of schedule. The final, temporary, coffer dam was destroyed a month later.
The newly constructed dam now held back the whole might of the Yangtze River.
The water levels slowly rose and eventually a reservoir 600 kilometres long was created. It was given the name Emerald Drop Lake.
The water levels in the Three Gorges rose by as much as five hundred feet!
Many important sites, hundreds of years old have been lost forever. However, the effect on tourism to the Three Gorges area has been small, river cruises seem to be as popular as ever. The mountains beside the Yangtze River, through the Three Gorges, are so high that a loss of five hundred feet has changed their dramatic quality very little.
The three Gorges dam construction did not stop with the completion of the main wall. The dam was to be equiped with 32 massive turbines that will make it the world`s largest supplier of hydroelectricity. It will eventually generate the equivalent of eighteen nuclear power stations.
In addition to the creation of the hydroelectricity power plant there is a massive construction to allow shipping to bypass the dam through a pair of huge ship locks.
The authorities estimate that by making the Yangtze more navigable shipping will increase tenfold.
Two "five-stage" ship locks have been built close to the dam. The largest vessels that they will be able to accommodate are 10,000 tons. Passing through the locks will take fours hours.
In addition to the locks a rather novel "ship-lift" is planned but will not be completed until 2014. Boats up to 3,000 tons weight will be raised and lowered a height of 113 metres as they go up or down river. Transit time for this lift will only be forty minutes as opposed to the four hours for the lock system.
Nearly 60,000 workers have been employed on all phases of the Three Gorges Dam construction. By western standards their pay and working conditions were extremely poor. Some workers received as little as the equivalent of $2.00 U.S. a day.
Many workers lived on-site in huts that had no basic sanitation or water. Health and safety standards were a low priority and to date over one hundred workers have been killed in accidents.
There are obviously a great many benefits obtained from the Three Gorges dam construction. As well as the obvious one of flood control, it is thought that living standards will be raised for the local population.
Most of the prosperity in China is centred around the coastal cities. By improving navigation up the Yangtze it is hoped economic investment will be made in these vast areas of inland China.
The generation of the hydroelectricity is a massive benefit. It is estimated that sales of this power will recoup the total cost of the Three Gorges Dam project - some U.S. $30 billion - in about ten years.
However,as with everything there are, of course, drawbacks and concerns.
The loss of the historic sites was always an issue, but for many, the 3 Gorges dam being built in such an active earthquake zone was the biggest worry. Any catastrophic damage to the dam from a quake could bring a nightmare scenario for those living downstream.
Concerns were also raised over the quality of the work and sub-standard concrete being used.
Within days of the dam being filled with water, over eighty hairline cracks were counted in the main wall. However, experts say that this is well within the design limits.
The rise in water levels has also brought problems. Major landslides in the Three Gorges have occured. In May 2009 there were two slips, one of 50,000 cubic metres and the other of 20,000 cubic metres. In the first four months of 2010 a further 97 landslips were counted. These landslips can cause tidal waves of differing heights.
An issue that continues to worsen is the condition of the water in Emerald Drop Lake. Sewage and rubbish from the increased shipping, together with run-off of fertilisers and pesticides, has badly polluted the water.
Even now, after the major part of the Three Gorges Dam construction has been completed, the project remains controversial.
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