After two decades controversy, Three Gorges enters its final stage

March 30, 2012

China’s Three Gorges Corp yesterday began construction of a dam that will flood the last free-flowing portion of the middle reaches of the Yangtze, the country's longest river, according to the Shanghai Daily.

A ceremony was held to commence early-stage preparation, including building a road and laying power lines and water pipes for the Xiaonanhai dam, said spokesman Zhu Guangming.

The long controversial, 30 billion yuan (USD4.75 billion) dam would be the last in a series of 12 dams along the Yangtze, the rest of which are all completed or under construction.

The series will stretch inland from the Three Gorges Dam, which has created an inland reservoir more than 600 kilometers long that has allowed the city of Chongqing to develop into an inland port. When completed, the Xiaonanhai dam is designed to produce 1.76-GW, a fraction of the 22.50-GW that the Three Gorges Dam will produce when it reaches full capacity.

The Three Gorges Dam is the world's biggest power project and was controversial well before it began construction in 1994. Objections ranged from the destruction of rare species to the flooding of historic towns and displacement of millions of people, to concerns it would quickly silt up and lose efficiency.

In January, China's environment ministry told hydropower developers they must "put ecology first" and pay strict attention to the impact of their projects on local rivers and communities, but for many critics of the Three Gorges project, that sentiment may be way too little and too late.