Three Gorges Dam showers China in filth, sewage and poison

Once again, I have to give kudos to Conrad for correctly envisioning the Three Gorges Dam many months ago as “the world’s largest open-air latrine.” Looking at this article, I’d say it’s even worse than that. [Link requires registration. It's worth it.]

WANZHOU, China – When this city decided to dam a tributary to the mighty Yangtze River, the city fathers searched for a suitable name for the beautiful artificial lake they said would form. They settled on Goddess Lake.

They planned a tree-lined park along its shores, a tranquil respite from city life. Little boats would ply its waters.

Six months after Goddess Lake began filling up, it’s become a cesspool filled with pig blood, dead fish, raw sewage, dye and runoff from tanneries.

“Can you see the sewage pipe dumping into the lake over there?” taxi driver Lu Yongheng asked. He pointed to effluent cascading into the lake, which is a few hundred yards from the Yangtze River.

Similar stories of environmental degradation are unfolding along the Yangtze upriver from the Three Gorges Dam. As the huge dam and smaller dams along the river’s tributaries block the water, the flushing and self-cleaning action of the Yangtze River basin has slowed.

Reservoirs are becoming sewers, filled with trash and smelly water. Local officials refuse to shut down polluting factories, fearful that unemployment will rise. Edicts from Beijing on controlling industrial waste go unheeded.

This was predicted by nearly every respectable expert, like Simon Winchester, who in his great travelogue The River at the Center of the World warned that this stinking mess was inevitable. The dam, he said, was an aberration that would turn China’s most spectacular vistas into an uncontrollable heap of shit.

And what’s at the heart of it? The same greed, the same rush to cash in that’s causing so many Guangdong factory workers to sacrifice their fingers and limbs.

The environmental deterioration that accompanies the $22 billion project shows how local authorities can thwart the toothless dictates of Beijing, and how zeal to sustain China’s economic growth often trumps concerns about pollution.

The central government has ordered hundreds of factories along the river closed because they were heavy polluters. But local officials have balked.

It’s a real conundrum. I can appreciate the position the local officials are in: If they were to close the factories, their constituents would be jobless. But shouldn’t this have been taken into consideration before the project went online?

Things are poised only to get worse. We are about to witness the spectacular rape and pillage of the once indomitable and splendid Yangtze, reduced amid the Three Gorges to a rotting, excrement-filled hole. An immense, overflowing Chinese toilet.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 8 Comments

China Round-up

A French academic declares that the Chinese Communist Party is beautiful, democratic, popular, un-corrupt and that it obeys the rule of law. Richard reports that warnings, including by yours truly, about environmental degradation caused by the Three Go…

April 28, 2004 @ 12:13 am | Comment

China — another Uri Party paradox

Well, this is kind of interesting: Among Uri Party lawmakers who won seats in the 17th National Assembly, 63 percent said that Korea should keep in closer contact with China in terms of diplomacy and trade instead of the United

April 28, 2004 @ 12:19 pm | Comment

constituents? I don’t think they have elections out here!

April 29, 2004 @ 2:45 am | Comment

Well, they do have local elections, but last I heard there was only one political party.

April 29, 2004 @ 9:33 am | Comment

I have a friend in Beijing (I used to teach him English) who works for the Central Government Environment Bureau or whatever it’s called. When I visited him in Feb 2002, I discovered that his current job is “Head of Sewage Treatment for the Three Gorges Dam”. Basically, he’s designed and overseen the building of a sewage treatment plant for every town and village on the banks of the reservoir. Now that won’t solve the whole problem, but it does show that the central government have been paying a lot of attention to this project (especially during the Jiang-Zhu era) and that they are quite realistic about what they’re up against.

April 30, 2004 @ 10:31 am | Comment

Of course they are aware of the crisis — all they have to do is take a sniff of the air around the Three Gorges. The fact that they allowed it to get to this stage speaks to their impotence and incompetence.

April 30, 2004 @ 10:57 am | Comment

Three Gorges Dam showers China in filth, sewage and poison

Little bit information here…

July 3, 2005 @ 5:47 pm | Comment

[...] wrote back in 2004 that the dam threatened to create on the beloved Yangtze the world’s largest open-air latrine, and I’m afraid there’s some truth to that. Check out the photos. It’s a sad [...]

July 23, 2013 @ 8:25 am | Pingback

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