Water pollution and river bank instability pose more serious problems than expected.
Chinese officials are considering the relocation of up to 300,000 people from the reservoir banks formed by the Three Gorges dam, according to a draft government report obtained by the Guardian.
The possible resettlement is prompted by landslides and water pollution more severe than anticipated. Fluctuations in the reservoir’s water level have destabilized its banks, and the river is not flushing pollutants as quickly as hoped.
“We aim to decrease the human impact on the environment and restore the ecosystem,” an official familiar with the report told the Guardian. “It will be hard because the plan will cost a great deal of money and involve finding new homes for many people.”
A government deputy told the China Daily that a project to improve water quality is planned.
“An eco-screen, or buffer belt, is waiting for approval to be built alongside the reservoir to improve the water quality of the Yangtze River streams and reduce the contamination from residents living nearby,” said Hu Jiahai, according to the BBC.
However, this relocation may be the first in a series. The government report states that landslides will continue to be a problem for 20 years and may require additional population movements, according to the Guardian. Up to 5 million people may need to be moved in the coming years, speculated senior officials quoted last year in the newspaper 21st Century Business Herald.
More than 1.2 million people were displaced for the initial construction of the dam. Finding homes nearby for the newly displaced will not be easy – the area around the reservoir has a population density more than twice the national average, the Guardian reports.
The potential relocation comes after China began moving 300,000 people in October 2009 to clear land for the eastern route of the South-North Water Transfer Project.
That project will send water from southern rivers 787 miles to Beijing.
Read more about China from Circle of Blue’s special report Hidden Waters, Dragons in the Deep
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton