U.S. Water News Online
BEIJING, China -- After a decade of work, China has begun
filling the reservoir for the Three Gorges dam, a major milestone for
the world's biggest hydroelectric project that critics say could
bring ecological disaster.
The sluicegate of the giant dam at Yichang in the central province
of Hubei was shut and water from the flood-prone Yangtze river began
creating a 600-km (365-mile) reservoir, state media said.
The water level is expected to reach 135 meters (443 ft) by June
15, the official Xinhua news agency said. Dam officials plan to raise
the water level further next year, ultimately submerging 29 million
square meters (312 million square feet) of land.
The controversial $25 billion dam, on which work started in 1993
and is due to finish in 2009, has been criticized fiercely at home
and abroad as impractical and an ecological disaster.
Former parliament chief and premier Li Peng, who ignored
widespread opposition and championed the project, has called it one
of the greatest engineering feats in history.
China says the dam is needed to tame the Yangtze, whose floods
killed more than 300,000 people in the last century alone and ranks
only behind the Amazon and the Congo rivers in terms of water flow.
But the project forced the uprooting of more than one million
Chinese and critics say the flooding of empty towns and villages
would bring severe pollution and cause silting by slowing the river's
"The decades of accumulated trash from the villages, hospitals and
cemeteries, including highly toxic waste material from the factories,
are all still there," dissident writer Dai Qing said.
"It is hard to estimate, but there are millions of rat corpses
lying around in the valley from when the authorities poisoned them in
preparation for the flooding," she said.
"These things will all be there when the area is flooded and the
water will be used for drinking purposes, so this problem is far from
About 1.13 million peasants living along the Yangtze will be
resettled -- hundreds of thousands have been moved already -- before
ancient villages are submerged.
More than 1,000 ancient relics are being moved, including the tomb
of Liu Bei, king of the state of Shu about 1,700 years ago and a
central figure in the classic novel "Three Kingdoms."
The project also has been plagued by corruption and deep cracks
appeared in the dam that required repairs.
But the government says there is more to gain than lose from the
project, which would help meet future energy demand and begin
generating power for the booming Chinese economy this year.
When finished in 2009, the Three Gorges dam will have 26 turbines
-- the largest in the world -- pumping out 18,200 megawatts of
electricity, equal to about 10 big coal-fired power stations using 50
million tons of coal a year.
Two 700 megawatts generators would begin operation in August and
two others in October, Xinhua quoted Three Gorges spokesman Chi
Wenjiang as saying. The project would deliver electricity to Shanghai
and eight provinces in central, east and south China over the next
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