Three Gorges Dam fills to max amid fears of landslides

August 19, 2011
Threee Gorges Dam view

Water rose to the maximum level at China's Three Gorges Dam on Tuesday, driving electricity output to full capacity at the world's largest hydropower plant for the first time since it began operating two years ago, its operator said.

That marks the culmination of the mammoth USD23 billion project on the upper reaches of China's longest river, the Yangtze, touted by the government as the best way to end centuries of floods along the river basin and to provide energy to fuel the country's economic boom.

But the project has had major environmental impacts and its construction displaced more than 1.4 million people. Some geologists also warn that raising the water level of the vast reservoir carries a heightened risk of landslides, earthquakes and prolonged damage to the river's ecology.

Its water level hit its peak height of 175 metres at 9 am on Tuesday, according to project operator, the China Three Gorges Project Corp. The previous record was 172.8 metres set in 2008, the year the generators began operating.

Last year, a government report warned that rising water levels were increasing landslide risks by reviving old landslide fissures as the soil around the dam became more saturated and unsettled.

The report cited a pre-flood inspection report by local officials that identified nearly 700 areas vulnerable to geological damage, 587 of them possible landslide spots.

When reservoir officials attempted to raise the water levels last fall, at least one town near Chongqing had to evacuate dozens of residents after a 400-meter crack appeared on the slopes above homes.