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Giant dam leaves rising legacy

Published Date: 20 November 2009 By Chris Buckley and Tini Tran in Beijing CHINA'S huge Three Gorges Dam has left a backlog of problems that may need £15 billion or more to solve, adding to the burdens of the controversial project, a government report has said. If approved, the money would apparently come on top of £22bn already spent on the 1.4-mile long dam, a lock to let ships move along the Yangtze River, 26 power generators and the resettlement of 1.3 million residents. The waters in the dam's 410-ADVERTISEMENT mile long reservoir were scheduled to have risen to their full height of 574 feet by early this month – but on 2 November the water reached 561 feet and then abruptly stopped. The reason given by dam officials is that too little water is flowing from the upper reaches of the river – 34 per cent less than last year – coupled with a deepening drought in the downstream provinces of Hunan and Jiangxi. But concerns at the dam's geological impact are rising. Last week, the investigative magazine Caijing revealed a report issued by a Chongqing region political consultative body that warned that the risks of geological disasters, such as landslides, would increase as the water rose to its apex. It also said rising water levels were also reviving old landslide fissures as the soil around the dam became more saturated and unsettled. Caijing also cited a pre-flood inspection this year by officials in the Wanzhou district of Chongqing, the megacity near the reservoir, that identified nearly 700 areas vulnerable to geological damage, 587 of them possible landslide spots. A reminder of the geological danger came last month. On the night of 1 October, officials in the township of Quchi, near Chongqing, issued an emergency notice after a new fissure was discovered in an old landslide area on slopes above the town. The hairline crack was reportedly 1,300 feet long. Yang Yong, a Sichuan-based geologist, said he believed the renewed threat of geological disasters may have been serious enough to delay the final phase. "Dealing with drought is a quite obvious reason, but I suspect that the potential geological threat is also a factor in stopping the water from rising," he said. "I think with the rise of the water level, the geological movement around the area is becoming more and more frequent. The government was quite aware of the problem." The draft "post-construction" plan prepared for the central government says much of the new money would go to supporting displaced people, many of them poor farmers. Weng Lida, a former environmental protection official who took part in the plan for post-construction work, said it set an initial cost on that work of £15bn, the report said. "Much of this will be spent on settling down and bringing prosperity to migrants (displaced by the dam]," it quoted him as saying. The call for fresh funding is another episode for the dam, which has drawn unusually open controversy and criticism within China. During the 1990s, as towns and villages were forced to move for the dam, riots and protests were common. Such unrest has subsided, but many displaced residents have complained of poor land and job opportunities in their new home towns.