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Huge Investment in Three Gorges to Pay off (02/06/2003)
2004-05-12
With the sluice gates closing down and the water level in the reservoir rising steady, the Three Gorges Project, the world's largest water control project, is expected to bring initial benefits soon.

Between zero hour and 9:20 a.m. Sunday, the gates of 19 of the 22 water diversion holes at the bottom of the Three Gorges dam, located on the upper reaches of China's longest river Yangtze, were closed one by one. The water level in the reservoir, which went up to 106 meters Sunday morning, will reach 135 meters in two weeks' time.


Although the entire Three Gorges Project will not be completed until 2009, it will start to play an important role in flood control, power generation, navigation, water diversion and environmental protection this year, Chinese experts say.


The 193-km-long Three Gorges, consisting of Qutang Gorge, Wuxia Gorge and Xiling Gorge, is famed for steep terrain and picturesque landscape. The Yangtze River, after running all the way through the narrow gorges, helped turn the plains along its middle and lower reaches into China's most fertile land, but at the same time also frequently haunted local residents with devastating floods.


In the summer of 1998, the Yangtze flooding claimed some 1,000 lives and caused losses in tens of billions of dollars.


To effectively block and control floodwater flowing down from the upper reaches of the Yangtze has been a long-cherished dream of the Chinese. It also turned out to be the greatest motivation for the Chinese government to begin constructing the gigantic Three Gorges Project in 1994.


E Jingping, secretary-general of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, said the filling up of the Three Gorge reservoir would "help create favorable conditions" for this year's flood fighting efforts along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze.


During the impending flood season, the Three Gorges reservoir will be able to store some 2.3 to 3.1 billion cubic meters of Yangtze floodwater by adjusting the water level between 135 and 140 meters, E said.


When its water level reaches 175 meters as designed in 2009, the reservoir will boast a floodwater storage capacity of 22.15 billion cubic meters. As a result, the Yangtze embankments in the most flood-prone Jingjiang section, which now could only stand severe flooding seen once a decade, will be able to cope with devastating floods occurring once every 100 years.


By that time, the affluent Jianghan Plain and Dongting Lake Plain in central China, which are home to some 15 million people, will be forever relieved of the agonies inflicted by frequent flooding.


Power generators would start operation two months after the filling of the Three Gorges reservoir began, and by the end of this year, a total of 5.5 billion kwh of electricity will be produced from four generating units and transferred to the country's well-developed but energy-strained eastern and southern areas via 20 power transfer routes and eight substations. China's most important financial hub Shanghai is expected to be the first beneficiary of the Three Gorge Project.


Lu Youmei, general manager of China Yangtze Three Gorges Project Development Co., said that in every of the coming six years, four new generator units would be installed and put into operation at the Three Gorges dam.


"It's just like each year a new Gezhouba power station is built and put into use," said Lu. Not far from the Three Gorges dam, Gezhouba used to be the largest hydropower project on the Yangtze with an annual generating capacity of 14.09 billion kwh.


When completed in 2009, the Three Gorges hydropower plant will become the largest in the world with a total installed capacity of18.2 million kw and an annual generating volume of 84.7 billion kwh.


Major Chinese cities and industrial bases in more than 20 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities will benefit from the electricity generated at the Three Gorges. Therefore, the Three Gorges Project has been regarded by many as a "super propeller" of the Chinese economy.


As the Yangtze water level rises, navigation conditions on the river will also turn for the better, with protruding reefs and rocks submerged and dangerous torrents and swirls replaced by quiet and slow flows.


"When the water level goes to 135 meters, the navigation conditions on the gorge waterway over 400 km upstream will improve a lot," asserted Zhang Chaoran, chief engineer with the China Yangtze Three Gorges Project Development Co.


According to surveys and calculations, when the water level reaches 135 meters in the reservoir, water depth in the Three Gorges section will increase by some 50 to 60 meters. When the water level rises further to 175 meters in 2009, 10,000-ton ships will be able to go smoothly to Chongqing, cutting shipping cost by more than 30 percent.


Moreover, with the Three Gorges reservoir playing the role of a "water flow adjuster", shipping difficulties on the river's middle and lower reaches during low water seasons will also be largely overcome.


By then, the Yangtze River will really live up to its name as the country's "golden watercourse", experts say.





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