Crazy Dam Fever Plagues China!

Posted on: July 10th, 2012 by Harmony Foundation No Comments


The 185-meter-high Three Gorges Dam was the biggest water dam in the world when it was completed On May 20, 2006.  The construction displaced millions of people and has had enormous environmental impacts during construction and beyond.

While the Chinese government was proud of creating this “miracle,” huge environmental impacts started to hit China soon thereafter. In the spring of 2011, seven central and eastern provinces and Shanghai were experiencing serious water shortages. This was the driest season in China in 50 years. While authorities blamed the problem on global warming, many experts dismissed such claims, recognizing that more frequent and longer lasting droughts occurred since the huge dam came on stream.


Criticism of the environmental, ecological and social damage from Three Gorges Dam has never cooled down, yet the fever for hydroelectric dam construction keeps getting even hotter despite scientific warnings. According to a June 2nd 2011 article from China [1], there were over 5200 dams over 30 metres high in China either constructed or under construction. You can say that along any well-known river in China there are hydroelectric dams. By 2020, most planned hydro projects will have been completed in nearly all areas except Tibet, and now China is focusing its thirst for hydro to Jinsha, Lancang, Anger River and Yarlung Zangbo Rivers in Tibet.



The Yellow River, the “cradle of Chinese civilization,” is the second-longest river in China after the Yangtze and the sixth-longest in the world at the estimated length of 5,464 kilometers.  Over 3300 dams were built along it, and it eventually dried out. For nearly the entire year of 1997, no water at all flowed into the sea from the Yellow River. [2]


The Jiulong River in the south of China, the mother river, once flowed through Longyan, Zhangzhou and Xiamen cities. Then the Jiulong River disappeared; cut into hundreds of unconnected ponds. The ecology along river is totally changed. In Zhangzhou alone, there were 920 hydroelectric plants in 2010; while in Longyan, the number already reached 1072 by 2007.  In Zhangzhou, over 100 fish species are extinct, and in Longyan, over 30 more vanished from the river. [3]


Apparently China didn’t learn the lessons from either the Yellow River or the Jiulong River. The same tragedy is happening to the Yangtze River now.


The Jinsha River, about 2308 kilometer long with catchment area of about 500 thousand square kilometer, is upstream from the Yangtze River. Its watercourse contributes about 40% of the Yangtze River. The Jinsha River will be divided into many sections by 25 hydroelectric dams under planning, which will generate as much electricity as four Three Gorges Dams put together, and become a gigantic cluster of reservoirs with an average of one hydroelectric dam every 100 kilometers.


Chinese geologist Fan Xiao of the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau in China warned that the Yangtze River will run dry with so many dams along the river, that their combined reservoir volume would exceed the Yangtze’s flow.


Hold on a second! You are probably asking, “why does the hydroelectric development chaos in China matter to Canada?” Good question. Let’s take a deeper look at the roles Canada played in Three Gorges Dam. Pat Adams of Probe International made it clear commenting that, “the problems at the Three Gorges aren’t just a Chinese problem, as it’s often portrayed; it’s a world-wide issue, with responsibility in other countries.” [4]


In 1986, China picked a consortium funded by Canada to carry out a feasibility study on damming the Yangtze River in the Three Gorges region. By then, Canada was a leader on hydroelectric power. The report came out supporting Three Gorges Dam with one condition “the water depth should not exceed 160 metres.” However, China decided to go with 180 metres. Initially in 1992, Canada’s international development agency (CIDA) withdrew support, citing concerns about economic viability and social dislocation. Many other western governments initially refused to support China to build this huge dam too. However, in 1994, recently elected Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien led a trade mission to China and surprised Canadians by announcing his government’s support for Three Gorges Dam. No surprise that other western countries, such as Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and French, followed. [5]


Probe International asked the key question for us – how could a country with a reputation for being peacekeepers to the world, morally upstanding, and environmentally sound give the Three Gorges Dam the credibility and financing it desperately needed?


The companies that gave life to the Three Gorges Dam are BC Hydro International, Hydro-Quebec, SNC-Lavalin and Acres International. Who financed Three Gorges in Canada? AGRA Monenco, an international engineering and construction management company signed a $25million contract in 1994 and another for $12.5 million in 1995, with Canada’s Export Development Cooperation (EDC) financing this contract. Dominion Bridge Inc. signed a $64 million contract with Chongqing and Sichuan Province, and EDC financed $23.5 million of this contract. General Electric of Canada, in a consortium with Siemens and Voith-Hydro, German engineering companies, signed a $320 million contract in 1997, and EDC provided $153 million to finance GE Canada.  Hydro-Quebec International signed a $1.9 million contract with China Power Grid Development Company. [6]


Now, let’s think back to what Pat Adams said about “responsibilities in other countries.” If we contribute to harmful decision which lead to negative indeed nasty impacts in another country, shouldn’t we take responsibility for that?


The poor decisions may have been Chinese but the enablers were Canadian businesses and agencies willing to put aside social and environmental concerns and responsibilities to gain lucrative contracts and curry favour.


How are we doing now? Canada’s campaign to ship oil sands crude to China certainly offers major clues that short-term political and economic ambitions trump humanitarian and environmental concerns and responsibilities for Canadian decision-makers.


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