Expert: Ecological problems not all due to Three Gorges Dam

15:39, May 23, 2011      

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In response to some media claims that the Three Gorges Dam is behind the drought conditions that have plagued the population living along the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, Lu Yaoru, an expert with the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said that the Three Gorges Dam is not entirely to blame.

Recently, severe lingering drought has hit the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, and the problem has mainly been centered on the provinces of Hubei and Jiangxi.

More than 500,000 people in Hubei Province have limited access to drinking water while Jiangxi's Poyang Lake, the country's largest freshwater lake, has shrunk to 1,326 square kilometers — the smallest it has been since satellite records were first kept. It is normally 4,000 square kilometers during the rainy season.

Unavoidably, such problems are being blamed on the Three Gorges Dam once again just like all the previous natural disasters, including mudslides, earthquakes and floods, that happened close to the region. There has been a rising chorus in China that blames the Three Gorges Dam for the drought.

However, scholars like Lu say all the blame cannot be placed on Three Gorges Dam.

Lu, who is a professor at Tongji University as well as the associate leader of geology and earthquake evaluation for the Three Gorges Project group, said it is impossible and not scientific to put all the blame for extreme environmental problems on the Three Gorges Dam project.

The Three Gorges Dam does separate the natural system of the Yangtze River into two parts. That would certainly change the original ecological balance and cause related changes both in geology and in the hydrological cycle, Lu said.

But such effects cannot match those influences brought by global climate change, such as the floods that happened in Fujian and Hainan provinces last year. They could not have been caused by the Three Gorges Dam project.

Objectively speaking, Lu said, every project may affect nature, but projects vary in the degree to which they affect it. Building large cities and developing sea areas can all bring harm to the nature, and these projects all trigger debates, not only the Three Gorges Dam project.

The most important thing people need to do is to minimize the bad effects, to develop at the same time of protection and to reach a harmony between humans and nature, Lu said.

Therefore, Lu said, China needs to evaluate the Three Gorges Dam project comprehensively and cannot simply attribute all the severe problems that have arisen in the lower reaches of Yangtze River to the project. These problems also have something to do with pumping water from underground and building more high buildings.

He also added that the Yangtze River is a complete natural disaster chain, so landslides and mudslides caused by floods would also hit the region even if the Three Gorges Dam did not exist.

In addition, Lu also said the water storage of the dam will definitely increase pressure to the land surface, but such pressure can only trigger small earthquakes and is still not heavy enough to cause an earthquake like the massive Wenchuan Earthquake that hit China's Sichuan Province in 2008.

By Wang Hanlu, People's Daily Online
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