11 June 2003 – The first stage of filling the vast reservoir behind the Three Gorges Dam in central China has been completed five days ahead of schedule, state media said Wednesday.
The reservoir on the Yangtze River, which started to fill June 1, has flooded dozens of towns and small cities. The communist government is moving some 1.3 million people out of the densely populated area that is to be inundated.
The reservoir’s water level reached its first target depth of 445 feet on Tuesday evening, newspapers and the Xinhua News Agency said. It reported that this is the minimum required for river freighters and passenger ferries to sail on the reservoir and for the dam’s turbines to begin generating power.
The $22bn dam is the world’s biggest hydroelectric project — and one of its most controversial.
Chinese leaders say the dam will control chronic flooding on the Yangtze and generate much-needed power. Critics say those goals could be achieved more easily with a series of smaller dams.
Construction went ahead despite complaints about the cost, the flooding of cultural and archaeological sites and warnings that the dam could worsen pollution by trapping sewage and industrial waste.
“Successful completion of water storage means the Three Gorges Project has overcome the first challenge of nature,” Xinhua quoted Zhang Chaoran, chief engineer of the Three Gorges Project Development Corporation, as saying.
Plans call for the reservoir’s water level eventually to rise to 577 feet. At that point, the reservoir will flood an area covering 254 square miles.
Shipping on the Yangtze, one of China’s main transportation arteries, has been banned near the dam since April 10. It is to resume next Monday.
A giant ship lock built beside the dam is to carry river vessels around the 630-foot-tall concrete wall.
At its present level, the dam is storing some 430 billion cubic feet of water, Xinhua said.