The Three Gorges Dam: Expert Opinions Matter

15 November 2016
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The Three Gorges Dam is considered by some to be a wonder of the world. While that’s up for much debate, what it is for sure, is the largest hydroelectric dam of the world. It spans the third longest river, the Yangtze River, in the Hubei province of China.

Known as China’s most ambitious project since the Great Wall, the TGD has had its fair share of financial, environmental and human-rights issues.

The lesson in this story is clear: expert opinions matter. And with projects that are this substantial in nature, the input of subject matter experts need to be heavily considered before such a large undertaking.


The project was approved by the government in 1992 and construction began in 1994. The intention in building the world’s largest hydropower plant was to provide a major source of renewable power and to prevent floods downstream.

The project was set to cost approximately $8.3 billion.

Meanwhile, human rights activists and scientists voiced their numerous concerns for the impact this dam would inevitably have on the environment and the surrounding inhabitants. Among their concerns was the increase in landslides, because of the pressure on the land.


It took 17 years to complete the project in three stages. The first stage spanned from 1992 to 1997 where the cofferdam construction began; in the second stage, from 1998 to 2003, the construction of the cofferdam continued, along with the construction of the permanent ship lock and the navigation buildings. The third stage, which began in 2003 and was completed in 2009, saw the completion of the machinery installation, and the construction of the power station and dam on the right bank.

Several reports have shown that the deliberations in congress were not supported by experts in sociology, anthropology or archaeology and consequently, and there has been much controversy about the human-rights issues and environmental impacts of this project.


Despite countless warnings form scientists, the project has seen its completion and the result is a 3,861 square miles canyon-reservoir dam, at an estimated cost of $25 billion (while some people say the costs are three times this amount) – a far cry away from the initial estimate of $8.3 billion.

To date, the government has displaced 1.2 million people from their homes throughout the construction phases. And in 2007, the Chinese government announced the possibility that 4 million people would need to be relocated over the next 10 to 15 years. Some estimate that this number is actually closer to 6 million, since the environmental impacts of the dam are still not fully understood. 

There have also been dozens of landslides since the building of the Three Gorges Dam, and several floods, claiming the lives of many.

Experts report that the TGD will not be capable of operating at full capacity without impacting serious environmental harm, and therefore it is not nearly as efficient as Chinese authorities had anticipated. Some estimate that by 2020, the TGD will be reducing its hydropower energy generation by 14% to remedy some of the environmental issues at hand.

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