Ed in Asia travel blog

Mini Gorge

Note the 175m final water level marker.

The damn dam


Next up on the adventure was a bus to Chongqing where we boarded a boat for a four day tour down the Yangtze River. Upon arriving at the boat we found out that we were the only foreigners on the boat. While this meant that we would again be the sole focus of the curious Chinese tourists, and get virtually nothing from the guided tours along the way, there was an upside to being strange and foreign. Our tickets were for third class, which is a six bed dorm room down the hall from the engine room. It turned out that we were so funny looking that none of the Chinese passengers were willing to share a room with us, so it ended up being two people in a six bed room. Hello first class for the cost of third! I don't think they charged us extra for the cockroach or the rat either. Suckers!

Along the way there were a couple of tourist trap stops per day designed to take your entry fee and give you as little as possible in return. At the end of the river tour was the big attraction, for me at least. What will one day be the largest hydroelectric dam in the world is being built there. It's called the Three Gorges Dam and it is projected to cost more than $22 billion when completed in 2009. It will produce 18,000MW of electricity for power starved China and should also reduce flooding downstream.

On our river tour all of the guides that spoke English made a point of saying that they liked the dam, and thought it was a good thing. They did this without even being asked a question about it. Kind of a strange thing to struggle to say when you can hardly speak English as it is. However, the picture might not be as rosy as the tour guides would have you believe. The raising of the water level above the dam has displaced over 1.9 million people, and there are reports of protesters being jailed or fined. In addition, there are a number of archaeological sites that will be submerged forever.

Then there are the technical issues. The most significant of which is the amount of suspended dirt in the Yangtze river. This makes sediment build up behind the dam a serious threat to both the life span of the dam and the durability of the turbines. While there are plans in the works to build more dams upstream to remove the silt, somehow I think that logic might be flawed.

Regardless of whether or not it's a good idea, they're building it. It's something that could only happen in China, where huge controversial projects get pushed through with out even a second thought. How's that for top down planning.

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