Large dam construction projects can be seen as humankind s attempt to control nature by changing the course and speed of a river. Is controlling nature a worthwhile goal for humankind? Should we try to live in harmony with nature instead? Throughout history, philosophers such as John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Rachel Carson, and Gifford Pinchot have argued about these and other ideas relating to human interaction with the natural world. The Yangtze River has formed from the movement of the earth’s crust some 40 million years ago. It is the world’s third-largest river after the Amazon and the Nile. China has relied largely on the Yangtze River for thousands of years. Just the same, people have feared the Yangtze for thousands of years. It has long brought frequent and disastrous floods to downstream residents.
It has killed hundreds of thousands of Yangtze dwellers. The river has been part of these people’s lives, whether good or bad, since the beginning of time. For centuries, floods have drastically affected the people along the Yangtze. In this century alone, floods have killed over 300,000 people. The flood of 1998 alone was so cataclysmic that not only did it kill people, but almost drowned China’s economy. In August of 1998, one-tenth of China’s grain supply was completely destroyed. A 1996 flood killed 2,700 people, and as many as 140,000 died in 1931. Flood control is not the only positive impact that the dam will have. In terms of money and economy, the dam will generate electric power, increase shipping, and provide better irrigation and drinking water.
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The Three Gorges Dam will be capable of creating 18.2 million kilowatts of electricity. That is enough power to run a city ten times the size of Los Angeles. Thus, making it the largest power plant in the world. The dam will increase shipping along the Yangtze fivefold by allowing larger ships to travel further up the river. That’s a big boost for the economy of China. This increase in shipping will be due to the complexity of the dam. For instance, an actual elevator will be used to raise smaller ships (up to 3000 tons) to the water level of the dam. One of the world’s largest lock systems will be used by the larger barges (up to 10,000 tons). This lock system is so amazing that it could raise the Titanic to the height of the Statue of Liberty in just three hours.
The Three Gorges Dam will favorably impact the environment in several ways. It will provide flood control for the downstream area on the Yangtze River. The Dam will also provide roughly 16, 750 megawatts of electricity from twenty-six different turbines. This is the power equivalent to around 18 nuclear power plants or fifty million tons of coal. This reduces the coal emissions by around 1.3 million tons of carbon dioxide as well as ten thousand tons of nitrous oxides. This new hydropower will provide a cleaner energy source. The completed dam will also have favorable economic impacts, as it will allow shipping further up the Yangtze. The increased power generation and business opportunities will allow China to continue to grow.
This dam is also a symbol of China’s technological and industrial capabilities as it is the largest dam in the world and is hailed as the eighth wonder of the world. There are many concerns and problems that this dam causes. Its huge size alone, no other dam has this sheer size and impact, causes concerns in the assumptions that have been made in the planning of it. The damming of the Yangtze River by the Three Gorges Dam will create a reservoir that will be nearly six hundred kilometers long. Being that the canyons are so narrow and steep this reservoir will inundate a large amount of land. With the scheduled completion of the Three Gorges Dam by the year 2009, the People’s Republic of China will have completed the biggest, most expensive, and perhaps the most hazardous hydroelectric project in world history. The 1.3-mile-long, 610-foot-high dam will create a reservoir as long as Lake Superior.
It will twist 385 miles through the walls of the canyons, all the way from the dam site near Yichang upriver to the large city of Chongqing. The reservoir’s 10.4 trillion gallons of water will force almost two million valley residents to abandon their ancestral homes and terraced farmlands. The people from 13 cities, hundreds of villages, 955 business enterprises, and factory towns will have to evacuate 115,000 acres of the richest land along the river basin and relocate in the unknown, often inhospitable territory with lower living standards where the local people resent them. More than 320 villages and 140 towns will be submerged as well as fifty-four thousand plus acres of farmland and seventeen thousand acres of forests. This fertile farmland and forests are one of the foundations of China’s heritage and contain many temples, shrines, and other archeological sites.
The dam is designed to protect the area downriver from flooding, yet this poses a problem in the case of the largest floods as the water levels and speeds will change drastically. The area upstream will also be subject to changes during large floods as water levels back upstream and rise; presenting difficulties to the new cities and cliffs. Concerns have also arisen over the dam’s durability during an earthquake. This topic arises particularly because the dam location is over a fault line; the very fault line that created the three gorges, to begin with. It is feared that the increased weight of the reservoir might trigger another earthquake that could upset the dam and create an unimaginable disaster. The Three Gorges Dam will impede the free flow of the Yangtze and may drive two of China’s aquatic creatures to extinction. This dam and its effects threaten the Yangtze River dolphin and the Chinese sturgeon.
These two creatures are uniquely Chinese and are a part of China’s heritage. The whitefin dolphins are the largest freshwater dolphins in existence. They are an essential part of the river and are embedded in Chinese folklore. This species is already threatened by the current pollution of the river and likely faces extinction upon the dam’s completion. This dam will also endanger the Chinese alligator, the white crane, certain species of monkeys that live on the cliffs, as well as the finless porpoise. The ecosystem of the Yangtze is argued to be on the verge of being irreversibly upset. The construction of the Three Gorges Dam was officially started on December 14, 1994, by Premier Li Peng. The construction has continued and does to this very day.
The river has been diverted by the means of a large man-made channel and a large cofferdam has been constructed to enclose the site for the dam. The foundations are almost completed and the dam is forecasted to be completed in the year 2009. The halting of this project seems irrational, so the management becomes essential to the health of the region. The Three Gorges Dam offers great rewards: a large source of power, increased transportation, controlling of life taking floods; it also poses risks to the environment and the Chinese themselves. As America did in its industrial infancy, China is now expanding and building monumental projects that hope to mature her into an industrial giant. The management of the Three Gorges Dam, the control of the level of pollution in the Yangtze, and the environment must not be overlooked in the quest for money and power.