Feb. 21, 2024

Decade River Project 2010 (7) Environmental Impact Assesment on the Jinsha River

Reported by: Wang Yongchen

On the last day of November 2010, six experts and journalists from the River Decade Project 2010 set out at five a.m. for Liyuan Hydropower Station on the Jinsha River. The station’s environmental impact assessment was available on line at that time, and non-governmental organizations had made suggestions, hoping that amendments could be made to provisions for fish protection and the prevention of geological disasters. We had also heard that the relevant river had already been dammed even though the project had not yet passed its assessment. We wanted to confirm that rumor.

The great mountain by the Jinsha River

A riverside mountain in the morning

Leaving Lijiang, we saw a snow-covered mountain.

The snowy mountain with trees

Today we divided into two groups. One group headed for Tiger Leaping Gorge to see what area would be submerged if a power station was built. The other group went to Liyuan Hydropower Station. As we also wanted to visit Xiao Lianzhong’s family, everyone set out early in the morning when it was pitch black dark.

At around seven o’clock, the sun turned the sky light gold. The mountains gradually revealed themselves, and the white snow covering them became visible as well.

Nature’s whites and greens

Children going to school

The sign reads: Liyuan Hydropower Station, 18km.

Liyuan Hydropower station is located on a river segment which is also the border between Shangrila County of Diqing Prefecture and Yulong County of Lijiang District. The whole region is inside of Yunnan Province. There is Liangjiaren Hydropower Station on the upper reaches of this river segment and Ahai Hydropower Station on its lower reaches. Along highways, the dam site of Liyuan Hydropower Station is 204 km away from Lijiang, 354 km from Dali, 680 km from Kunming and 455 km from Panzhihua (via Ninglang County).

According to the laws of the People's Republic of China  public involvement is a prerequisite for government approval for large projects like Liyuan. Before passing its environmental assessment, the construction company can only engage in preliminary preparations like arranging water and electricity supplies, building roads, and leveling the ground. They cannot build the body of the project.

An apt slogan: water and soil conservation improves the ecological environment; water and soil conservation saves human civilization.

Diversion Tunnel of Liyuan Hydropower Station

Our first encounter with Liyuan Hydropower Station

Zoom in to see whether the river has been dammed

Currently, the first period for public commentary on Liyuan’s environmental impact assessment is still underway. (The relevant notice is provided at the end of this article). However, when we looked at the power station for the first time, the mountain and river we saw looked like the photo below. We used to believe that experts, scholars, and civic organizations still had a chance to put forward suggestions for fish protection during the period of public scrutiny before a project passed its assessment. Nevertheless, at this power station in front of us, the diversion tunnel had almost been completed. Because we were at a high place, we still could not tell whether the river had been dammed or not. We continued to walk towards the station.

The gorge and mountain after the power station was built

The mountain’s original appearance

Liyuan Hydropower Station is surrounded by a village. To enter the station, I invited two villagers who were going to the market to sit beside the driver, hoping they could cover us when passing the guard station. But our vehicle was visible from far, so we thought we could not simply steal in. We returned to the main street and found another vehicle. Without too much trouble, we found a guide and vehicle that could take us in. Xiaogang bought a hat like those that locals often wear, and I put on the black jacket of a restaurant owner. One journalist put on a straw hat, and another concealed his camera in his clothes. Having dressed up, we walked hand in hand along a steep slope, arrived at the construction site of the power station and got in a vehicle that could bring us further in. Although we couldn't reveal the camera, we still managed to take some pictures of Liyuan Hydropower Station, whose construction had progressed this far without passing the environmental impact assessment:

The river had been dammed.

The river had been dammed.

This is the Jinsha River at Liyuan Hydropower Station.

There is more than one river segment that has been dammed.

It’s said that from 2004 to 2009 Premier Wen Jiabao lost his temper several times because the Jinsha River Hydropower Station had gone into operation before passing its environmental impact assessment. In June, 2009, the Longkaikou Hydropower Station and Ludila Hydropower Station of the “eight hydropower stations forming one reservoir” on the Jinsha River was halted by the Ministry of Environmental Protection as it had failed its environmental impact assessment. One year later, however, the Liyuan Hydropower Station, which is much worse than the previous two, has cut the river into several parts before passing its environmental impact assessment.

The dam axis along the river and the mountains

With the construction at such an advanced stage already, is there any point in the environmental impact assessment failing the project?

The Liyuan Reservoir will swallow up part of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain National Scenic Area as well as the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Provincial Nature Reserve and Haba Snow Mountain Provincial Nature Reserve. The environmental impact assessment announcement period of the report has already ended. Our country has enacted the Environmental Impact Assessment Law for the evaluation of the influences of project construction on the environment, regulations for the protection of scenic spots and laws for the protection of nature reserves. If these laws and regulations are shelved in the middle of mighty development, then there will be boundless development in hydropower and other projects that destroy the environment. 

How dare the construction companies do that? Is this the result of the powerlessness of the law or the bravery of the construction workers?

The influence of storing water on local species of fish was in the Jinsha River paperwork processed by relevant departments; options for altering the magnitude of the impact were included. Furthermore, the Institute of Hydrobiology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences has kept warning for many years that a large number of migratory fish in the Yangtze River are about to die out. However, this issue was not brought up during the public input section of the environmental impact assessment for the large dams in the middle reaches of the Jinsha River.

At the public input period for the environmental impact assessment of Ahai Hydropower Station, the following issues were raised: within the assessed areas there are 7 kinds of national key protected wild animals, of which 6 are birds. Birds like sparrow-hawks, common buzzards and stannels live in the areas that will be submerged or used for the projects. The raised water level would not have much influence on the national protected animals. Since birds have large spheres of activities and strong flying abilities, the constructions would exert much impact on them.

During the eco-trip in the spring festival of 1999, Green Earth Volunteers learned that every year red-crested cranes and whooper swans spend the winter in Yancheng, Jiangsu Province. In recent years, when birds reach their destinations after long-distance flying form the north, they drop directly to the ground and die. Dissection often reveals that there is not one grain of food in the bird corpse’s stomach. During the long-distance flying, they are supposed to eat, drink and rest on the Shandong Peninsula, but now the wetlands there have become development zones. Birds not only need to fly but also need homes. The public input section of the environmental impact assessment for Jinsha River Hydropower Station, however, ignored the wetlands, the gene pool of animals and plants.

On September 25th, at the “Yangtze Forum” held in Changsha, Huang Xuebin, commander of the Three Gorges Geological Disaster Prevention Headquarters, pointed out that frequent geological disasters pose a serious threat to public safety in the area. After reaching the river, landslides can lead to surge disasters. The highest waves can be up to ten meters high, affecting ten of square kilometers. Other reports show that after the reservoir starts storing water, the number of microseisms there will substantially increase and sediment will accumulate on the bank, changing the river’s structure. These changes threaten nearby residential areas. Nevertheless, in the public input period of the environmental impact assessment for these projects, problems like the landslides and earthquakes were not afforded much attention.

Non-governmental environmental organizations, experts and scholars hope that these problems will be added to the announced environmental impact assessment, but what we see today is a complete Liyuan Hydropower Station. Is public participation still relevant? Is the national system for environmental impact assessment still working?

One more glimpse at the Jinsha River in Liyuan

The embarrassment of the Jinsha River and the impotence of the environmental impact assessment

The slogan says, “Protect the environment and benefit the posterity”.

A stone on the mountain near Liyuan Hydropower Station

The River Decade is feeling, recording and affecting the rivers by walking along them. Whoever sees these photos, we believe, will join our effort.

Image of the mountain

Tomorrow we are going to visit Xiao Liangzhong, a son of the Jinsha River. Is the river there still flowing freely?

Translated by: Yang Wenlong
Proofread by: Lucy Chen
Edited by: Madelyn Finucane

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