The Public Benefits of the Three Gorges Project

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2012-03-31 14:03
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 Large-scale water conservancy facilities constitute an indispensable part of China’s efforts to benefit the public through the development water conservancy infrastructure. As a key project in China’s efforts to harness and develop the Yangtze River, the Three Gorges Project has huge benefits in flood control, electricity generation, shipping, the allocation and comprehensive utilization of water resources, and ecological protection. This makes the Three Gorges Project a major water conservancy facility for the benefit of the public.

 February 8, 2011, workers soldering components in an electronics factory in Hubei Province. A large number of people in Zigui County, Hubei Province have been relocated due to the Three Gorges Project. At present, 57 large-scale enterprises in Zigui County have taken on more than 30,000 people, the vast majority of whom are local migrants. This measure has addressed the issue of employment for the relocated population whilst also promoting economic growth. / Photo by Xinhua

 We have continued to give top priority to social benefits by giving full play to the role of the Three Gorges Project in flood control, drought resistance, the mitigation of natural disasters, the allocation and utilization of water resources, and shipping. By giving full play to the role of the project in flood control, we have enhanced our ability to control flooding and mitigate natural disasters in the Yangtze River basin. We have struggled to control flooding in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River since ancient times, and the frequent occurrence of natural disasters has long been a cause of suffering for people in these areas. However, with the completion of the Three Gorges Project, we now have a basic framework for flood control on the Yangtze River. The huge storage capacity of the Three Gorges Reservoir has allowed us to raise the flood prevention capacity of the Jingjiang section of the Yangtze, which is located in the middle and lower reaches of the river. While in the past this section of river was only able to withstand 10-year floods, it is now able to withstand 100-year floods. The Three Gorges Corporation formulates an emergency response plan and holds emergency response drills prior to the flood season each year, and also conducts a meticulous inspection and overhaul of all facilities and systems, including the dam, the power stations, and the ship locks. During the flood season, the corporation strictly follows operational plans and management directives by lowering the water level in the reservoir to the acceptable maximum level for the flood season. Through close monitoring and accurate forecasting, the corporation regulates the reservoir scientifically in a way as to effectively reduce or stagger flood peaks, thereby turning the dam into a shield that protects the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River. We have given full play to the key role of the project in water supply, and thus enhanced our ability to allocate and comprehensively utilize water resources. The natural inflow of the Yangtze River varies greatly in different seasons, with uneven temporal and spatial distribution. We are able to supplement water shortfalls in the dry season by using the water stored in the Three Gorges Reservoir during the rainy season. By optimizing and adjusting the distribution of water resources, we can ensure that there is a sufficient supply of water to meet production, domestic, and shipping demands in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River. We have also given full play to the role of the Yangtze River as a golden waterway, thereby promoting the vigorous development of shipping on the Yangtze. The Yangtze River is a major artery for inland shipping in China, and an important economic hub that links China’s eastern, central and western regions together. Conditions for navigation in the Chuanjiang River waterway have been improved dramatically since the Three Gorges Reservoir began to impound water, allowing for the direct passage of 10,000-ton freighters from Shanghai to Chongqing. The freight volume passing the Three Gorges Dam has increased at an average rate of 13% per year since the reservoir began to impound water. The total freight volume passing the Three Gorges Dam in 2010 reached 87.94 million tons, more than eight times the average volume prior to the beginning of water storage. This has provided a huge stimulus for the economic and social development of regions along the Yangtze River.

 The Three Gorges Project is carefully operated and scientifically regulated and thus provide a high-quality, safe, economical, and clean source of energy to underpin economic and social development. Hydropower development is an effective means of increasing energy supply, improving the energy structure, and protecting the ecological environment. The Three Gorges Project has generated 88.2 billion kWh of electricity per year since its completion. The continuous supply of clean electricity is not only providing a strong impetus to boost the development of the national economy, but is also conducive to the achievement of China’s targets in energy conservation and emissions reduction as well as the alleviation of the global greenhouse effect. The Three Gorges Corporation has comprehensively carried out lean production in a constant effort to enhance the capacity of the facility in electricity generation. By adhering to the idea of management for lean production, it has continuously enhanced its ability to operate and maintain the Three Gorges power station and its huge generator units. Moreover, it has optimized the regulation of the reservoir to make effective use of flood waters within safe limits, which has allowed for higher efficiency in the utilization of water resources. A total of 500 billion kWh of electricity has been generated since the first generator unit went on-line, providing a strong boost for the development of the national economy. The corporation has made comprehensive efforts to carry out safe production and ensure the stability of the national grid. With its huge installed capacity, the Three Gorges power station is located at the core of the national grid, playing a key role in the transmission of electricity from western to eastern regions and the exchange of power between southern and northern regions. For this reason, the safe operation of the station is imperative to the stability of the national grid. The Three Gorges Corporation has maintained a strong commitment to safety in power generation. It has focused on technological innovation, stepped up equipment maintenance, and implemented the standards of intrinsically safe enterprises in a constant effort to improve the standard of safe operation. Having increased the proportion of hydropower in China’s overall electricity generating capacity, the Three Gorges power station is playing an important role in the optimization of China’s energy structure and the attainment of targets in energy conservation and emissions reduction. The amount of power generated by the Three Gorges power station since its launch is the equivalent to burning 167 million tons of standard coal, which would result in 380 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions and 4.5 million tons of sulfur dioxide emissions.

 By putting people first, we have increased the living standards of people that were relocated due to the Three Gorges Project and promoted the economic and social development of the reservoir area. The most important goal of water conservancy is to benefit the public. The Three Gorges Corporation has worked actively to assist the related government departments and local governments in the relocation effort. To fulfill its social responsibilities, it has embraced a philosophy of building a quality hydropower station that drives the development of local economies, improves local environments, and benefits local residents. The face of the reservoir area has been transformed by a relocation effort that has seen more than one million people settle into new homes over the space of more than a decade. In order for relocation and resettlement initiatives to progress steadily, the Three Gorges Corporation has earnestly implemented state policies and regulations pertaining to relocation. It has promptly allocated relocation compensation and subsequent support funds in a diligent effort to relocate local residents, provide them with stable homes, and gradually allow them to prosper. By the end of 2010, nearly 84 billion yuan in compensation had been allocated to people relocated due to the Three Gorges Project, and about 3.1 billion yuan in subsequent support funds had been withdrawn from the proceeds of the electricity generated by the Three Gorges Project. Over recent years, the Three Gorges Corporation has also launched dedicated poverty alleviation initiatives in the Three Gorges Reservoir area. These schemes have come in a variety of forms, such as assistance in personnel training and industrial development, and heartwarming aid for people in need. Through its joint efforts with local governments, the corporation has helped the towns and townships around the dam area to improve their water supply facilities, supported the development of eco-industrial parks for relocated residents, and launched a variety of schemes to help relocated residents secure employment. The development of the Three Gorges Project has effectively promoted the economic and social development of the reservoir area. From 1994 to 2010, the reservoir area maintained faster economic growth than the national average, with rapid progress being made in education, public health and cultural programs.

 Equal emphasis has been placed on environmental protection and the exploitation of water resources in the effort to maintain a balanced and sound ecology in the Yangtze River basin. The Three Gorges Project is in essence a project to improve the ecology of the Yangtze River basin. Throughout the course of the construction and operation of the Three Gorges Project, we have carried out environmental protection initiatives while exploiting water resources, and promoted resource exploitation through environmental protection initiatives in a diligent effort to mitigate the adverse effects of resource exploitation on the ecological environment. We have placed emphasis on the harmony between humans and the river in order to ensure the ecological balance of the Yangtze River basin and preserve the sound conditions of the Yangtze River. The Three Gorges Reservoir area is an important water conservation area and ecological screen in the Yangtze River basin, having a major bearing on the flood control and ecological security of the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze. During the argumentation, planning, design, construction, and operational phases of the Three Gorges Project, all parties concerned have attached great importance to the protection of water quality, the prevention of geological disasters, and the monitoring of ecological environments in the reservoir area. During the construction of the project, we strengthened efforts to preserve the water quality in the reservoir by preventing water pollution, controlling pollution from ships, cleaning the reservoir bottom, clearing away floating waste on the surface of the reservoir, and monitoring dynamic changes in water quality. The central government has allocated over 12 billion yuan in dedicated funds to control geological disasters in the reservoir area. According to monitoring data, the ecological conditions in the Three Gorges Reservoir area have generally been kept within the parameters that were projected during the argumentation and feasibility study phases, while certain environments have been improved. We have strengthened ecological restoration in the dam area through the development of an ecological demonstration base. Environmental protection initiatives in the dam area are both a showcase and an important aspect of environmental protection efforts in the Three Gorges Project. Throughout the construction of the project, the Three Gorges Corporation carefully implemented all of the measures that were stipulated in the documents of environmental impact assessment, and mitigated the adverse effects of construction operations on the environment through the prevention and control of pollution, water and soil conservation, afforestation, public sanitation initiatives, and environmental monitoring. After the Three Gorges Project went into operation, the Three Gorges Corporation committed an additional 480 million yuan investment to water and soil conservation, ecological restoration, afforestation, and the development of an ecological demonstration base in the dam area before the year 2012. Efforts have also been stepped up to protect rare animal and plant species in order to establish a new aquatic ecosystem. The development of the Three Gorges Project has exerted certain negative effects on biological diversity. In order to mitigate these adverse effects, we have made efforts to protect rare terrestrial plants and rare fish species such as the Chinese paddlefish by establishing protection zones and spots, conserving germplasm resources, implementing ex-situ conservation programs, carrying out artificial propagation and release initiatives, and implementing dedicated monitoring and research programs. In addition, we have established an aquatic ecosystem that conforms to the new environmental features that have emerged following the formation of the Three Gorges Reservoir.


(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.20, 2011)

Author: Deputy Director of the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee of the State Council

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The Three Gorges Project

The Three Gorges Project is located on the trunk stream of the Yangtze River between the municipality of Chongqing and the city of Yichang in Hubei Province. The Three Gorges Dam, which is located upstream from Yichang City, comes together with the Gezhouba Hydropower Station downstream to form cascade hydropower stations. The Three Gorges Project is not only the largest engineering project ever to be built in China, but is also the largest hydropower complex in the world at present, bringing about comprehensive benefits in flood control, electricity generation, shipping, and water supply. The construction of the dam was completed in 2006. By the end of August 2009, a total of 151.468 billion yuan had been invested in the Three Gorges Project. Since the water level in the Three Gorges reservoir reached the predetermined 135 meters in 2003, the Three Gorges Project has generated a total of over 350 billion kWh of electricity. At the same time, the total volume of freight passing the Three Gorges ship lock has exceeded 300 million tons, more than the total volume of freight that passed the Gezhouba ship lock during the 22 years before the Three Gorges Reservoir began to impound water. With this, the project has already begun to exert its functions in electricity generation and shipping. The Three Gorges Project has declared a decisive victory after 17 years of construction, with all tasks initially prescribed in the project design having now been essentially completed. On October 26, 2010, the water level of the Three Gorges Reservoir reached 175 meters for the first time, the maximum level of water impoundage as defined by the project design. This indicates that all of the functions of the world’s largest hydropower complex are able to satisfy their design requirements. The Three Gorges Project was essentially completed in 2009, with two follow-up projects, an underground hydropower station and a ship lift, set to be completed during the period of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan. The completion of these works will mark the overall completion of the world-renowned Three Gorges Project.

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