Run-of-river US$1.5 billion 510-MW Zangmu hydroelectric project begins generating power

At a cost of US$1.5 billion, the 510-MW Zangmu hydroelectric project in Gyaca County, Shannan Prefecture, of China’s Tibet Autonomous Region began producing a portion of its total generating capacity on Nov. 22. The run-of-river project is located on the Brahmaputra River (Yarlung Tsangpo, as it is known in Tibet).

Zangmu, on which construction began in 2009, will be 116 meters high (381 ft) when completed in 2015, according to reports. The amount of power the station is currently generating is not immediately available.

Zangmu is one of five planned projects that will provide a total capacity of 2,000 MW of hydropower. Published reports indicate that in addition to hydropower on Brahmaputra, the regional government plans to build hydroelectric projects on the Nujiang, Lancang, and Jinsha rivers to supply electricity to China’s Tibet Autonomous Region.

The move to produce badly needed electricity to Tibet’s estimated 6 million people has raised concerns with the government of India because China and India do not have a water treaty.


“The Indian government has raised concerns about the possible downstream impact of this project during talks with China earlier this year,” according to an article from Tibet Third Pole (TP3). TP3 is an organization that champions issues for Tibetan ecosystems.

“Chinese officials have assured their Indian counterparts that the project would be run-of-river, having little impact downstream,” TP3 said. “The projects are for hydropower generation only and are neither storage projects nor designs to divert the water.”

According to the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, China has consistently been moving ahead with its dam construction projects and India has been pressing for a negotiation with the government of China to look into the proposed reduction in the diversion of the water flow of the Brahmaputra River.

River facts

According to a report from the Hydrological and Water Resources Survey Bureau of Tibet, the Yarlung Tsangpo River facts include the following:

• At the upper reach of Brahmaputra River and the highest elevation river in the world
• Source is the Kanglung Kang Glacier near Kailash Range in Himalaya, China
• Located in the southwestern part of the Tibetan plateau
• At an elevation of 5,300 m (17,388 ft) near Konggyu Tso Lake
• Length is 2,900 km (1,800 mi) and is a trans-boundary river that runs through China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, India and Bangladesh

According to Claude Arpi, a researcher and expert on Tibetan culture, history and politics, “Most of Asia’s waters flow from the Tibetan plateau, the principal watershed in Asia. The Roof of the World [Tibet] is the source of Asia’s 10 major rivers. Tibet’s waters flow down to 11 countries and are said to bring fresh water to more than 85% of Asia’s population, approximately 50% of the world’s population.

“Four of the world’s 10 major rivers, the Brahmaputra (Yarlung Tsangpo) the Yangtze, the Mekong and the Huang Ho (Yellow River) have their headwaters on the plateau. Other major rivers originating in Tibet are: the Salween, the Irrawaddi, the Arun, the Karnali, the Sutlej and the Indus. About 90% of their runoff flows downstream to China, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.”

In South Asia, of main concern are the Brahmaputra, Indus, Sutlej, Arun and Karnali rivers, whose waters give life to more than 1 billion people living downstream, Apri said.

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Gregory B. Poindexter formerly was an associate editor for

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