China floods put Three Gorges Dam to the test

Flood waters are putting China’s massive Three Gorges Dam to the test and raising water levels on its longest river, the Yangtze, after weeks of floods nationwide killed about 700 people.

Xinhua news agency said July 31 that water was being released from the reservoir behind the world’s largest hydroelectric project through giant sluice gates, raising water levels downstream. The central Hubei Province was on alert as the flood crest was expected to reach or exceed levels that would trigger flood warnings.

“The Three Gorges Dam has opened 18 sluices and the water level in the reservoir will continue to rise,” Xinhua quoted a worker at the dam’s operation department as saying. “The safety of the dam will be tested.”

Water was pouring at more than 51,000 cubic meters per second into the Three Gorges reservoir, which stretches for hundreds of kilometers through narrow gorges. The sluice gates release water at 48,000 cubic meters per second. High water levels forced closure of the ship locks at the dam July 30.

Although Three Gorges’ first function is for controlling such floods, its hydropower generation also came into play. People’s Daily reported that hydropower generation of the partially completed power complex �increased remarkably� with the rising volume of water. The newspaper said average daily generation was exceeding 200 million kWh.

China’s National Audit Office recently reported the 18,200-MW Three Gorges is being implemented on time and under budget, despite some flaws in project management. (HNN 7/3/07)

The first unit of the Three Gorges right bank powerhouse began operation June 11. All 14 units of the left bank plant began operation in September 2005. Additionally, work has begun on installation of six more units in an underground powerhouse, which eventually will boost total capacity to 22,400 MW in 2010.

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