The Three Gorges Dam Project

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The Three Gorges Dam Project, located in Sandouping, Yichang in the Hubei Province, was first suggested by then President of the Republic of China Sun Yat-Sen in 1919. It was his vision to harness the power of the Yangtze River by a dam to further economic development in China, using the benefits of hydroelectric power. The Yangtze River is the third largest and longest in the world. It is 3,937 miles long with an annual discharge of 960 billion cubic meters of water into the East China Sea. The source of the river is glacial ice form the mountain range south-west of Chongquing. The drainage area of the Yangtze River is 1.8 million square kilometers, and floods about once every ten years.

Courtesy of Water Technology.

The $24 billion project was formally approved in 1992 by the National Peoples Congress. Construction began in 1994 and is scheduled to be complete by 2009. It is the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. The dam consists of three parts: the dam itself, the ship locks, and the shiplift. The dam is 600 feet high and 1.3 miles across. It consists of a center spillway, to let water over the dam, and each side houses the hydroelectric turbine generators, twenty-six in all. The right side of the dam is fully operational, while the left side of the dam is scheduled to be fully operational by 2009. The generators will be able to produce as much power as eighteen nuclear power plants, about 84.6 billion kilowatt hours. The ship locks are located on one side of the dam. There are two in total, one for upstream traffic and one for downstream traffic. There are five locks, or stages, used to transport large ships, twelve at a time, over the dam. Both ship locks are fully operational. The third part of the dam is the shiplift, an elevator used to raise smaller ships over the dam. The shiplift is scheduled for operation in 2009.

Parts of Three Gorges Dam. Courtesy of Hillman Wonders of the World

The water behind the dam is expected to reach a final height of 525 ft by 2009. The length of the forming reservoir will be 36 miles, thus the reservoir will be able to store up to 39.3 billion cubic meters of water. The height of the river is expected to rise as much as 375 miles upstream of the Three Gorges. Since the change is water level is so drastic, as many as 1.3 – 1.9 million people are being forced to move.

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