Monday, August 8, 2011

Dodgy dams endangering Gansu county

Dodgy dams endangering Gansu county
Global Times; August 04, 2011
By Zhu Shanshan

In order to further economic growth, authorities in Zhouqu, Gansu
Province, have greenlit a number of dams without studying their
environmental impact, only a year after a massive landslide devastated
the county.

The county government has approved 68 hydropower projects, despite only
one of these having passed a feasibility study and registered with the
local earthquake information center, China Central Television (CCTV)
reported on Wednesday.

Besides, more than 1,000 such plants, mostly smaller ones, are clustered
along the 600-kilometer-long Bailong River despite geological conditions
in the region being unsuitable for such projects due to the river
straddling a tectonic plate fault line.

A landslide hit Zhouqu following torrential rain on August 2010, killing
1,471 people and wounding more than 2,500.

Another small landslide recently destroyed some county roads, and local
residents have complained that such slides are increasing. Locals have
also complained the amount of trees being felled to feed dam
construction has worsened erosion, CCTV reported.

Fan Xiao, geologist with the Sichuan Bureau of Geological Exploration
and Exploration of Mineral Resources, told the Global Times that these
projects are putting local people under great threat from landslides.

"Building dams requires a lot of digging in the mountains. This destroys
vegetation and creates debris, which are typically left to pile down in
the valleys. Loose, uncovered slopes and debris together trigger
slides," Fan said.

Furthermore, Fan noted that a dam's reservoir creates an unnatural
fluctuation of water levels, further eroding banks by submerging them
He Jianzhou, head of the village of Yueyuan in Zhouqu, told the Global
Times that power stations are being built every five kilometers along
the Bailong River.

"Growing dams have raised water levels and drowned farmland," he said.
"The river used to abound with carp and other fish, but fish can no
longer swim upstream to lay eggs. There are now hardly any fish in the
muddy water."

He also complained that the massive construction required to build
hydropower stations has taken land away from farmers, who have received
little compensation in return.

"The county pays the farmers 25,000 yuan ($3,885.55) per mu in
compensation. That is way too little."

Nie Weimin, head of the country's earthquake information center, told
CCTV that due to the region's vulnerable geological condition,
construction projects are required to undergo a string of safety
evaluations to assess their earthquake resistance capacity.

However, when asked about how projects could be approved by from local
authorities without any feasibility studies, a project leader on one of
the dams told CCTV that the local investment promotion bureau had helped
push the paperwork through.

According to the report, the county's fiscal revenue for this year is
estimated at 49 million yuan, almost five times higher than in 2005
before the hydropower boom made income levels soar.

About 40 percent of this year's fiscal revenue will come from tax drawn
from the plants.

However, to relieve the damage brought about by the massive landslide
last year, central and provincial authorities have invested over 5
billion yuan in rescue and rebuilding efforts.

Wang Hao, a water resource expert with the Ministry of Water Resources,
told CCTV that Zhouqu's hydropower plant development is based on a false
This enables tax revenue to be collected by the local authorities, with
disaster relief being paid for by the central or provincial governments,
but leaving the people to face the risk of landslides.

"These projects are aimed at boosting local GDP growth and earn more tax
revenue, regardless of their feasibility. This blind expansion has
inflicted harm on the environment and is proof of an unscientific
development," Wang said.

Dams are becoming the main source of revenue for local governments in
southern Gansu, Fan warned, adding that the trend of over-damming rivers
is happening nationwide with local officials chasing higher GDP figures.

"A lot of waterways dry out during dry seasons. This is not just
happening in Zhouqu," Fan said.

In 2004, CCTV reported that 17 small-scale dams were built on a
34-kilometer-long river in Shimian county, Sichuan Province.

According to official data, in 2003 alone, 123 hydropower plants were
found without approvals, management certificates and proofs of inspection.

Huang Shaojie contributed to this story

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