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The Three Gorges Dam in China: Is It a Model for Disaster or the Next Wonder of the World

Updated on September 20, 2010

It has been said time and again that the higher you fly, the harder you fall.  Could it also be true that the bigger the project, the more catastrophic it would be if and when disaster comes its way?  The Three Gorges Dam in China has gained much praises, support, controversies, and criticisms over the years from people of different sectors and of different interests.  As many have said, The Three Gorges Dam is not only the biggest dam in the world; it is the biggest in everything.  It is the most expensive and extensive project in the world and will probably be the most catastrophic if a rare chance of extreme natural disaster ever takes place in the future.



The Three Gorges Dam

The Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia and the third longest river in the world.  It stretches from Qinghai Province to the East China Sea near Shanghai.  It is prone to regular and extreme flooding in its immediate area where millions of people have already died and billions of dollars in homes and properties were damaged and lost.  Along this flood prone area, the Three Gorges Dam is built.


The three gorges region in china is named for its cliffs.  The three gorges refer to the cliffs of The Qutang Gorge, The Wu (Wushan) Gorge, and The Xiling Gorge.  The Three Gorges Dam is about 200 kilometers stretching from Sichun Province to Hubei Province and the structure is more than 600 feet tall.


The idea of making a dam from the Yangtze River came from Dr. Sun Yat Sen.  However, it was only during the 1990s that experts have conducted studies about it.  They found that building a large dam along the Yangtze River has its benefits.  In fact, they found that the benefits far outweigh the risks and as long as it is being monitored, the risks can be avoided to some extent.


Upon completion, this dam will be the largest hydroelectric dam and the largest dam of any kind in the world.  Over a million people have been relocated in other areas to make way for the project.  With the rising level of water in this dam, many towns and villages have disappeared.  Along with them, burial grounds and some tourist spots also disappeared.  The switch to hydroelectric energy is supposed to generate cleaner energy.  It is estimated to cut about 150,000 tons of dust annually from its atmosphere. 

Click thumbnail to view full-size
one of the submerged cities where the water level has risenone of the submerged cities where the water level has risen
one of the submerged cities where the water level has risen
one of the submerged cities where the water level has risen
one of the submerged cities where the water level has risen
one of the submerged cities where the water level has risen


The benefits the Chinese government hopes to have from this dam are flood control, electricity and power generation from hydroelectric energy, navigation along the dam and shipping in inland shores, tourism, irrigation in its immediate vicinity, and water transfer from dam to river or river to dam.


Flood control can be achieved when, during the flooding months, the water level in the dam will be reduced significantly from its average level for it to contain flood waters.  This reservoir will have flood storage of about 40 to 50 meters in depth.  And because it is a very huge dam, it has a capacity of more or less 20 billion cubic meters.  This flood storage will help control massive floods and reduce its frequency.


Upon its completion, this reservoir will supply about 18,000 megawatts of electricity or the output equivalent of about 15 nuclear power plants.  With its booming economy, China is becoming one of the biggest consumers of oil.  They need alternative energy sources to combat power shortages.  And because hydroelectricity is renewable energy, it is deemed cleaner and safer to the environment.


Navigation along the dam will be easier because some of the most inaccessible places along the Yangtze River will become more accessible.  Transportation in the inland shores of Yangtze River will be improved due to the elevated water level.  It will allow larger ships that can hold 10,000 ton freighters to travel further inland.  The project included the installation of a system of locks for ships to travel in two directions to improve traffic and thus boost inland shipping and trade.


The Chinese government hopes to boost tourism with this dam.  Tour boats are available to offer trips to both foreign and domestic tourists in the area.


Because of this dam’s massive water supply, irrigation in its immediate provinces will greatly improve.  The dry and drought prone lands will have a better irrigation system and boost agriculture in that region.




Some threats facing this huge dam are extreme flooding, earthquakes, pollution, and silt accumulation.  However, some of these risks, like pollution and silt accumulation, can be avoided when monitoring and maintenance of the dam are conducted properly. 

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    • BeatsMe profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Agreed. But whether we agree or not, this dam will boost tourism in this area and it's one of the reasons it was built. Thanks for coming by, friend. :)

    • billyaustindillon profile image


      7 years ago

      Very interesting reading and just shows you what the costs are to the Chinese miracle as you point out I hope the risks are rationalized and disaster doesn't occur. Incredible amount of people relocated here.

    • BeatsMe profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Hi Nell, hopefully nature will be nice to this place. Thanks for reading. :)

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      8 years ago from England

      Hi, this is really interesting. As you say it could well be an accident waiting to happen. It is a shame that so many people have to be relocated, we shall just have to wait and see, great hub, cheers nell

    • BeatsMe profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      I know what you mean, Tony, having to move from one home to another is oftentimes difficult. Thanks for dropping by. :)

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      I feel for the more than 1 million people who have had to be relocated. It must have been unhappy times for them. Also the risks of so large a dam are scary.

      Thanks for sharing this interesting article.

      Love and peace


    • BeatsMe profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Hi Cgull, I think even when they didn't really defy nature, this place has already been experiencing flooding. They probably just want to see if they can make things better. But as you've said, they are doing it dangerously.

      Hi Quicksand, I think they did. But experience tells us that when nature gets angry, there is really nothing much we can do about it as humans.

      Thanks for dropping by, friends. :)

    • quicksand profile image


      8 years ago

      Hopefully the Chinese engineers would have taken all the forms of natural disasters into consideration when constructing this barrier.

      Thanks for the interesting article. :)

    • cgull8m profile image


      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Good post BeatsMe. We can see in history when humans defy nature, it defies them back. Only time will tell how this will affect in the long run.


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