I accompanied a group of 8 Vermont School students from my “Environmental Law and Regulation in China” summer course for an 8 day study tour to China (8/6-8/14). In Guangzhou, we were able to visit the Guangdong Province Supreme Court. Together with Sun Yat-sen University Professor Dejin Gu and SYSU student Peipei Wang, we also traveled to Hubei Province. In the city of Wuhan, we met with the Wuhan University Law School’s Environmental Law Center faculty. The focal point of the Hubei province trip, however, was a visit to the Three Gorges Dam Project near the city of Yichang, approximately a 4 hour drive from Wuhan.
Our main impression of the dam project was its massive size and the tight security surrounding it. We had to go through several security check-points in order to approach the dam. Near the dam ship-locks, we were also subjected to what appeared to be a radiation detection device. At the top of an project area observation point (see the picture), we were able to see the entire dam. From that vantage point, the dam does not appear too overwhelming in size – until we saw a bus crossing the dam. Compared to the other structures on the dam, the bus’s size was miniscule, showing how everything is dwarfed by the dam and its structures. In fact, it is rather difficult to take a good picture of the dam – A picture showing the entire dam makes it impossible to discern much detail.
The dam also has permanently altered the landscape of what is one of the most aesthetically stunning areas that I have ever seen. Even with the dam there, however, the area remains an amazing sight -- mountains rise high above the river on both sides. What was less enchanting, however, were the great amounts of trash floating down the river, concentrated in the center of the stream by the fast-moving currents. From afar, it almost looked like long ribbons of flotsam. When examined more closely, they turned out to be plastic bottles, styrofoam pieces, or many other household items.
When we left the Three Gorges Dam Project, we saw a multitude of power transmission lines radiating away from the dam’s power plants. That is of course one of the dam’s main justifications. While the dam has been operational since 2003 and is already delivering electricity, additional turbines are still being installed. When everything is completed in 2009, the total installed electric power generation capacity of the dam will be 18 gigawatts. The price in human cost, however, has been high. At last count, about 1.4 million people had to be resettled to avoid the rising reservoir waters. And there are many other adverse environmental effects. Hopefully, this dam project can serve as a learning experience for China.