Essay on Three Gorges Dam
The Three Gorges Dam is considered the largest power station in the world, in terms of installed capacity (22,500 MW) since 2012. The enormous project expands by the town of Sandouping in Yiling District over the Yangtze River, Yichang, Hubei province, China. The dam generated an impressive 101.6 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2018. Though, the massive projects set records in some other not so impressive departments as well, such as – number of people displaced which is around 1.3 million, and significant ecological changes including an increased risk of landslides and towns flooded which includes approximately 13 cities, 140 towns, and 1350 villages. Many people have raised questions regarding the project’s its effectiveness and the project has been controversial both domestically and abroad.
Three Gorges Dam
The idea of the dam was originally envisioned by Sun Yat-sen in The International Development of China, in 1919. He stated the possibility of building a dam capable of generating 30 million horsepower (22 GW) downstream of the Three Gorges. Though, the project got delayed due to various social and economic issues such as the Chinese Civil War and the economic problems during the communist takeover. Finally, the construction for the project started on December 14, 1994. The body was completed in 2006, and the power plant of the dam project was completed and fully functional as of July 4, 2012. In 2015 the last major component of the project, the ship lift was completed.
The dam is intended to increase the Yangtze River’s shipping capacity, as well as producing electricity. The dam reduces the potential for floods downstream which could affect millions, by providing flood storage space. The project has been regarded by the Chinese government as a monumental social and economic success, by implementing the design of state-of-the-art large turbines, and a move toward limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
The estimated cost for the project was around 180 billion yuan ($22.5 billion). But by the end of 2008, the cost reached 148.365 billion yuan, which included 64.613 billion yuan was spent on construction, 68.557 billion yuan on relocating affected residents, and 15.195 billion yuan on financing.
Three Gorges Dam: Environmental Impact
The submergence of hundreds of factories, mines and waste dumps, and the presence of massive industrial centres upstream are contributing to some profound environmental impacts of the project. Some of them are –
Emissions: An estimated 366 grams of coal would produce 1 kWh of electricity during 2006, according to the National Development and Reform Commission of China. From 2003 to 2007, power production was equal to that of 84 million tonnes of standard coal.
Erosion and sedimentation: Approximately 80% of the land is facing erosion in that area at current levels, and it resulted in depositing about 40 million tons of sediment into the Yangtze annually. Although the flow is slower above the dam, much of this sediment will settle there instead of flowing downstream; hence there will be less sediment downstream. The absence of silt downstream has effects like – downstream riverbanks becoming more vulnerable to flood, benthic sediment buildup causing biological damage, and reducing aquatic biodiversity.
Landslides: Frequent major landslides are caused by erosion in the reservoir, induced by rising water lead to noticeable disturbance in the reservoir surface, including two incidents in May 2009. When somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 cubic meters (26,000 and 65,000 cu yd) of material plunged into the flooded Wuxia Gorge of the Wu River and also, there were significant landslides in the first four months of 2010, 97 to be exact.
Waste Management: Over a billion tons of wastewater is released annually into the Yangtze River, which was more likely to be swept away before the reservoir was created. This has caused the water to look polluted, stagnant, and murky. According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, About 32 landfills were added, which could handle 7,664.5 tonnes of solid waste every day.
Forest cover: The research by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization suggested that the Asia-Pacific region would gain about 6,000 km2 (2,300 sq mi) of the forest by 2008. It is a significant change from the 13,000 km2 (5,000 sq mi) net loss of forest each year in the 1990s. It was possible mostly due to China’s massive reforestation effort, which was taken into consideration after the 1998 Yangtze River floods.
Wildlife: The region was known for its rich biodiversity; it is home to 6,388 species of plants, which belong to 238 families and 1508 genera. 57 percent of these plant species are endangered. Surrounding the Three Gorges Dam, the forested area in the region has dropped from 20% in 1950 to less than 10% as of 2002.
The region also provides habitats to hundreds of terrestrial and freshwater animal species. Freshwater fish are more severely affected by dams due to changes in the water temperature and flow regime. Many other fish are hurt by the turbine blades of the hydroelectric plants as well. The Yangtze River basin is home to 361 different fish species, and also accounts for 25% of all endangered freshwater fish species in China, therefore it is especially detrimental to the ecosystem of the region. Other aquatic species have been endangered as well, especially the baiji, or Chinese river dolphin, which is now extinct. Likewise, the Chinese paddlefish is also believed to be extinct due to the dam.
Terrestrial impact: NASA, in 2010 reported that the shift of water mass stored by the dams could potentially increase the length of the Earth’s day by 0.06 microseconds and could have an impact on Earth’s form as well.
A significant problem for the seasonal river of the Yangtze and an essential function of the dam is to control flooding. Millions of people live downstream of the dam, with some large and famous cities like Wuhan, Nanjing, and Shanghai located adjacent to the river. China’s most important industrial area is built beside the river, along with plenty of farmland.
In the year of 1998, a flood in the same region caused damage to billions of dollars. It affected more than 2.3 million people, and 1,526 people died.
As of 2020, in July the Three Gorges Dam opened three floodgates as the water levels rose more than 50 feet above the flood zone, amid the widespread flooding across the country. The Yangtze River has flooded in the past week of the month due to heavy rains during the monsoon season. This flood was reported to be the worst since 1998, more than 2,000 people died, and almost 3 million homes were destroyed. The average rainfall is around 12% higher than the previous monsoon season. The direct losses are estimated to be more than 49 billion yuan ($7 billion), and nearly 1.8 million people have been evacuated, according to the Ministry of Emergency Management so far.
Neighbouring India has also suffered from mudslides and flooding with thousand of submerged houses in central Assam after Bramhaputra, Asia’s one of the largest rivers burst its banks.
While Three Gorges is the world’s biggest hydro project, the problems associated with it are not unique. Large dams across the globe are causing social and environmental devastation, while better alternatives are being ignored. Though in the middle of the ongoing pandemic the situations are difficult in China, the floods are expected to pose a threat to parts of Shanxi, Henan, Shandong, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces, while heavy mountain rains will likely hit parts of Sichuan and Guizhou provinces; however, this should not have any impact on the strength of the dam. The failure of the dam will only make things worse and account for many more innocent lives.
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