The Three Gorges Project
The Yangtze River is one of the worlds largest at 6,362 kilometers. The river goes through 11 provinces of China and compromises a river basin of 18% of the total area of China. The river affects many different people living along its banks and in its watershed. The main purpose of the Three Gorges dam is to control flooding of this river. Approximately every 10 years the Yangtze experiences devastating floods. By damming the river, it will be possible to control the water and provide a stable river level throughout the year. The site selection for the dam was based on the geology of the area. The Three Gorges Dam is situated on a granite foundation, which is capable of withstanding an earthquake of 7-8 on the Richter scale though the area has never experienced a quake of this magnitude. This will provide a stable foundation for the construction of a dam of this magnitude.
Once the dam is built, the resulting reservoir will be created facilitating navigation. Currently rock formations make it difficult for ships to travel up the river. A 5-stage ship lock is being constructed to make river travel easier for ships up to 10,000 tons. A ship lift for smaller ships will also be built.
Constructing the Three Gorges Dam
The idea for this dam was first proposed in 1917, but world politics played a part in postponing the project. China was closed to the outer world from 1949-1979 for a period of 30 years. This isolation left China a poor country with no money for the construction of such a large scale project until recently. The dam was begun in 1993 and is expected to finish in 2009 with the first phase finishing in 2003.
The original estimate of construction costs was 12 billion dollars. Today, that number is expected to be 25 billion dollars by the time it is finished in 2009. Sources of major funding have been from electricity sales from the dam, loans from banks, issuing bonds overseas and other investors including the Import-Export Bank of Japan, French & German investors, the Electric Development Corporation of Canada, Merrill Lynch and others. Investors have been told that they can get their money back in 10 years.
Challenges of the Three Gorges Dam
One of the largest problems associated with the construction of the Three Gorges Dam has been the relocation of the local population. The project calls for the uprooting of entire villages and towns. Many of the local people are farmers with no other skills. Many of these people will have to be retrained in other fields when they move. Each family is receiving a stipend from the government to help with the transition.
Another challenge of the dam project is that of sedimentation. A silt-clearing sluice will be built with the dam and dredging operations will be conducted each year. The designers are still working on a total solution to the problem.
Notes by Mr. William G. Catlin and Mr. Geoffrey E. Wolfe
Mr. Yu Wenxing, Deputy Director - Senior Engineer, China Yangtze Three Gorges Project Development Corporation
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