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China's Three Gorges Project (TGP) on the Yangtze River (YR) is the largest water resources project in the world and is attracting attention from around the world. Possessing significant utilization benefits mainly for flood control, power generation, and navigation improvement, TGP will be a project of national importance to China in development of the YR basin. TGP strives to achieve a reasonable balance between China's economic advancement and key environmental and water quality concerns. A successful TGP will lay the groundwork for modernization and economic development of China's heartland.

The new lake created by TGP will require relocation of 13 cities, 140 towns, 1,352 villages, and over 600 factories. In addition, 1.13 million people should be relocated before the backwater is raised in the reservoir from Yichang to Chongqing. To face these challenges, China has had a long-standing plan to minimize the impact of TGP. The new lake, relatively narrow in most locations because of the steep gorges environment, will only inundate approximately 632 km2 (244 mi2) of land area. Owing to a total of 1.2 billion t wastewater discharged into the reservoir annually, China is also in the process of setting up a number of wastewater treatment facilities. The water quality of the Yangtze, however, remains good in general due to the huge quantity of runoff, except for pollution belts along the banks near cities. The slower flow velocity and higher water level caused by the TGP will aggravate shoreline pollution; this impact should be mitigated by better wastewater treatment measures.

The environmental and water quality impact of TGP will be widespread and profound. The paper highlights both the positive and negative environmental and water quality impacts associated with TGP. The major environmental benefits will be mainly in middle and lower reaches of the YR, such as flood control, hydropower generation and navigation improvement. Additional benefits include water supply, tourism and recreational opportunities as well as new residential and commercial development along the Yangtze. The main negative impact will be exerted on the upper reaches, such as farmland inundated and population relocated.

Also of prime interests to the WEFTEC participants, the world should understand that environmental and water quality protection is a basic policy of China with respect to water conservancy projects including TGP. The Chinese Government has issued “China's Agenda 21: White Paper on China's Population, Environment and Development in the 21st Century.” This is a guiding document designed to effectively balance protection of the environment and natural resources with sustainable economic growth. China has always tried to protect the environment in national social and economic development.

As is well known any major water conservancy project will have both positive and negative impact, however, TGP is no exception. The world should give full play to project benefits and take effective mitigation measures to its negative impacts. Further, one must understand the cultural and contextual background of China to objectively evaluate the needs of the nation relative to other developed nations. TGP will make a notable contribution to energy and sustainable economic development of China as well as protection to the YR environment. In sum, close collaboration and friendly information exchange of this type is needed between the east and the west to establish and promote global environmental protection and water quality goals.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2003-01-01

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