China Warns Of "Severe Problems" At Three Gorges Dam

Beijing admits its gargantuan project has triggered environmental and other issues.

Beijing admits its gargantuan project has triggered environmental and other issues.

China's Three Gorges Dam is quite the engineering feat.

It is the world's largest hydroelectric plant and, as Jordan Calinoff has written for GlobalPost, Three Gorges has the capacity to kick out 18.3 gigawatts — enough to support the power needs of the entire state of Alabama.

But there's one pesky detail: It has "severe problems."

That's the word today from the Chinese government, which in a rare move acknowledged serious problems at the infrastructure project in Hubei province which, officially anyway, cost China $25 billion:

Here's the latest, as reported by Chinese website Global Times:

In a statement issued after a meeting presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao, the State Council said the project had played a key role in flood prevention and power generation, but admitted it had caused severe problems to the environment, shipping, agricultural irrigation and water supplies in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, an area of 633,000 square kilometers shared by eight provinces.

"Problems emerged at various stages of project planning and construction but could not be solved immediately, and some arose because of increased demands brought on by economic and social development," the statement, published on Business Insider, added.

China relocated about 1.24 million people to build the dam. It also flooded 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,600 villages in an attempt to help manage the nation's water resources and to provide electricity for a surging economy. The area has suffered frequent landslides. Pollution has also been a problem.

As the Guardian points out, four years ago Chinese state media quoted government experts who said: "There are many new and old hidden ecological and environmental dangers concerning the Three Gorges dam. If preventive measures are not taken the project could lead to a catastrophe."

The news comes amid a severe drought in China, which is affecting the drinking supplies of some 300,000 people who live near the middle section of the Yangtze river.

In today's statement, the Chinese vowed to "properly handle all negative effects caused by the Three Gorges Project," and to "improve long-term mechanisms for geological disaster prevention, ecological preservation and the promotion of biological diversity."