China’s Mega-Dam Pays Scant Heed to Environment Costs, Activists Say

Sunday 12 October 2014

Date: 09 October 2014

Type: News

Source: Radio Free Asia

Keywords: Mega Dam

Chinese environmental activists have hit out at the construction of a massive hydroelectric power station on the Yalong River, a tributary of the Yangtze, which spans western China’s Tibet autonomous region and the southwestern province of Sichuan.

Work started this week on the largest ever hydroelectric power station and 10.8 billion cubic-meter reservoir in Sichuan’s Ganzi Tibetan autonomous prefecture on Monday, official media reported.

The station will eventually have a total generating capacity of three gigawatts, with the first generator to come online at the end of 2021, Xinhua News Agency reported.

But Henan-based photographer-turned-activist Huo Daishan, who has won awards for his expose of pollution in the Huai River, said such major dam projects come with a hefty ecological price tag.

Instead, the dam and power station—part of a top-priority list of key infrastructure projects—had been nodded through by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, he said.

"There should have been a very strict environmental impact assessment (EIA) carried out, according to proper procedures," Huo said.

"They should have listened to opinions from all sides, including scientists, local communities and environmentalists," he said.

Huo said one of the biggest casualties of such projects is biodiversity, adding that the Yangtze River has seen a catastrophic drop in the migratory fish population since the Three Gorges Dam was built.

"The cutting off of the route to the spawning grounds for migratory fish should have been included in the environmental impact assessment (EIA)," Huo said.

"And that’s just one of the problems that should have been dealt with in the EIA."

Growing calls

Jiangsu-based environmentalist Wu Lihong said China’s dam-building program is continuing apace, despite growing calls for greater environmental sensitivity.

He said the government is also in the process of building a cascade of more than 20 dams on another Yangtze tributary, the Jinsha River in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.

He suggested a possible link between dam-building and repeated earthquakes in the region, including one earlier this week in Yunnan’s Jinggu county.

"The recent Yunnan earthquake was very near the hydroelectric power stations on the Jinsha River," Wu said.

"We must take into account whether or not the building of hydroelectric dams leads to more earthquakes and landslides," he said.

He said environmental impact assessments on major infrastructure projects in China are still a cursory affair at best.

"Basically, they just do what the government tells them," Wu said. "It’s very rare for ordinary citizens to be given any say in the matter."

"And environmentalists who offer dissenting opinions are subjected to all sorts of persecution."

Series of dams

China’s construction of a series of dams on the Tibetan Plateau has sparked fears among its neighbors of reduced water flows on shared rivers and the possibility of earthquakes.

China may eventually build as many as 60 dams on the Tibetan Plateau, with 20 already built or under construction, and another 40 in the planning stages.

Cascades of dams on all major rivers will send electricity to major cities like Guangzhou and Shanghai by ultra-high-voltage cable, experts told RFA last year.

The massive Zangmu dam on Tibet’s Yarlung Tsangpo River, has sparked concerns in downstream India, where it becomes the Brahmaputra River, over possible interruptions in water flows.

Reductions in water flow have already occurred in Southeast Asian countries fed by the Mekong River, on whose upper reaches China has built a series of reservoirs and dams.

The Yalong has its source in southeast Qinghai province, and it flows into the Yangtze at Panzhihua in Sichuan.

The dam is being built and managed by a subsidiary of the State Development and Investment Corp., Xinhua said.

The power produced will feed the southwestern and eastern regions of the country, it said. Reported by Gao Shan for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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