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Dams and Flood Control in China: Safety Insurance or Damocles Sword?

Posted by Author on February 16, 2007

by Fan Xiao, translated by Three Gorges Probe, January 29/2007- (cont’d)

Prof. Huang pointed to the flood disaster that occurred in Ankang, Shaanxi province (North-west China), in 1983. The city is located 200 kilometres upstream of the Danjiangkou dam on the Han River, a major Yangtze tributary. After the Danjiangkou dam was built in 1969, coarse pebbles began to accumulate in the river section below Ankang. When major rainstorms hit the region from July 27-31, 1983, the level of the Han River rose precipitously.

Ankang was caught in a “pincer attack” from upstream and downstream areas. Due to the heavy rainfall, operators of the Shiquan reservoir upstream of Ankang were forced to release water just as the water level in deep gorges below the city was also rising rapidly.

As a result, the entire city of Ankang was flooded on July 31, 1983, with disastrous consequences. Thousands of people died, including those who had tried to save themselves by climbing up to the fourth floor of apartment buildings.

In 2004, a similar flood disaster occurred in Chongqing municipality’s Kai county, in the heart of the Three Gorges reservoir area. A severe rainstorm hit the county and surrounding area on Sept 6, 2004. The Xiao River rose to 171.5 metres, 5.6 metres higher than the “warning” level and 2.3 metres above the historic high on the river.

The old county seat, which is to be relocated in 2007, was completely flooded, with water rising in the streets to a depth of 11 metres.

The big floods in Kai county worried Three Gorges project officials. As Lu Chun, vice-director of the office of the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee, observed: “How will we be able to deal with floods once the Three Gorges reservoir is filled to 175 metres [above sea level] given that when the reservoir was only at the 139-metre level, flood water had nowhere to go on the Xiao River? How will Kai county cope if a ‘500-year flood’ occurs in the region?”

Whether or not the Three Gorges project will in fact reduce the severity of floods on the Yangtze is still a matter of debate, but the dam was built to a height of 185 metres anyway. As the water level in the Three Gorges reservoir rises, however, this question will be answered in time. What we do not want to see is Prof. Huang Wanli’s warnings coming true. (to be cont’d…)

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>> Poorly Built, Dangerous Dams and Reservoirs in China

original report from Three Gorges Probe

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