December 18, 2008

World’s Largest Dam Under Pressure From Rising Water Levels

State media said on Thursday that dozens of landslides in recent months due to rising water levels in China's giant Three Gorges Dam have damaged houses, land and infrastructure worth millions of dollars.

China finally evacuated residents from the last town to be submerged by the massive 400-mile long reservoir on the Yangtze River in July, ending an exodus of some 1.4 million people that began four years ago.

The world's largest dam aims to tame the river and provide cheap, clean energy for the country's rapid development.

But some believe rising water levels in the reservoir are eroding already fragile slopes and triggering landslides that could get worse as levels reach their maximum height next year.

In September, the reservoir's administration began withholding water outflows to push the reservoir's water level up to 175 meters.

But Chongqing government spokesman Wen Tianping said the rising water level had since further induced geological harm including landslides and collapsing of the reservoirs' banks.

"(These) have caused damage or created a latent threat to ... infrastructure, land and housing in dam areas above the evacuation line," Wen said.

He said 93 surface threats had emerged in 12 regions and counties around the dam area, causing direct losses of $53 million. Fortunately, there has been no injury or loss of life.

He maintained that the problems were anticipated during the dam's feasibility study and that there was no cause for concern.

Last year, $1.75 billion had been spent on repairs around the massive dam in past years and were confident such efforts were successful, officials said.

But a large mudslide hit a village in the Gaoyang area near the dam in April, sweeping into a school playground. Late last year, another landslide nearby killed 35 people.

Since its completion 2003, the dam's water level has risen in stages, reaching 156 meters in 2006. It is expected to reach its final height next year.

Image Courtesy Wikipedia