China's Worst Flooding in Decades Puts Pressure on Three Gorges Dam

By Dale Dolson, July 29, 2020

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China is currently experiencing its worst flooding in decades. Heavy plum rains in central and southern China have caused the Yangtze River to overflow, displacing 2 million people and leaving 150 dead or missing since flooding began in June. 

After the most recent flood on Sunday, there have been growing concerns over the structural integrity of the Three Gorges Dam in Hubei province, which was completed in 2009. Since its inception, the hydroelectric gravity dam (which is the largest in the world) has been under constant speculation about its environmental impact.

On July 19, the dam held back heavy floodwaters from Sichuan province and Chongqing municipality along the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, peaking at a record inflow of 61,000 cubic meters per second. 

In comparison, the 1998 floods, which killed over 3,000 people, had peak inflows of 53,000 cubic meters per second. As a result, state-run Global Times reported that the dam showed elastic “displacement and deformation to a certain extent,” which is “recoverable and not permanent, and that... the Three Gorges Dam has always been within the design limits.” 

After a third wave of flooding on July 27, Xinhua released pictures of the dam and reported that the structure “effectively retain[ed] 36.7% of the peak floodwater on Monday, mitigating the flood’s impact on the lower reaches.”

The Yangtze River can be divided into three parts: the upper, middle and lower reaches. The middle and lower reaches are at high-risk for flooding. 

Image via SCMP

Although Zhang Shuguang, director of the Three Gorges Corp’s Hub Management Bureau stated that the dam is sound enough to withstand “twice the mass flow rate recorded on [July 19],” the entire Yangtze River basin cannot only rely on the Three Gorges Dam as its safety is paramount.

As for a solution, China is developing ‘sponge cities,’ which as the name implies would consist of  permeable water systems to prevent flooding and could replenish water supply. Different sponge city projects have been implented across at-risk cities like Sanya, Shanghai, Wuhan and others. 

READ MORE: How Rising Sea Levels Could Change Life in China Forever

[Cover image via Xinhua]

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