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Damage to Dams in China Leaves Millions at Risk

dam china earthquake

Many dams in Southwest China sustained significant damage after the recent massive earthquake.

The Min River and its tributaries have 30 dams upstream from Dujiangyan and 16 incurred significant damage from the recent earthquake. The Zipingpu dam is an example where a dam failure could have disastrous consequences.

Zipingpu dam threatens millions

The Zipingpu reservoir can hold a staggering 1.1 billion cubic meters of water, but the dam wall was cracked after the earthquake. Dujiangyan, with a population of 600,000 would be devastated by a dam failure first. Within a couple hours, water would then hit the provincial capital, Chengdu.

“Dujiangyan would be hit first,” says Environmental sciences professor Ai Nanshan. “You can imagine water levels as high as two-story buildings within 10 minutes. Everything would be gone. There would be no time to rescue anyone.”

Hydroelectric Dams and Chinese Demand for Electricity

There is an increasing demand in China for electricity, meanwhile concern about global warming soars. Although hydroelectric power seems like a good solution, the quantity, locations, and scale of such dams may not be ideal.

In addition to millions of people being displaced from the construction of dams, they also inhibited rescue efforts following the earthquake. Soldiers could have used boats, but dams eliminated this option.

“Here’s the contradiction: The country needs power for development,” says Professor Ai, chairman of the Chengdu Urban Rivers Association. “You open a map of China and you see that almost all of its rivers have been dammed. There are almost no rivers that flow naturally.

Related Links on Hydroelectric Power:

Renewable Energy: When The World Is Not Enough

Tidal Energy from NYC’s East River


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Written By

is passionate about the new green economy and renewable energy. Sarah's experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and is a co-founder of Trees Across the Miles, an urban reforestation initiative. When she can escape the internet vortex, she enjoys playing in the forest, paddling down rivers, or twisting into yoga poses.


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