Mar. 23, 2023

River Decade Project 2014 (1) Chongqing’s Hydroelectric Dam Indefinitely Put on Hold

 Chongqing’s Hydroelectric Dam Indefinitely Put on Hold


-On the way to Xiaonanhai (literally “Small South Sea”, although it’s part of the Yangtze river.)



-Vegetables being washed in Xiaonanhai



-The Luohuang coal power plant near the river 


People/friends often have a hard time understanding why we come down to these rivers.  Whenever someone asks me: “What’s the point of this?”  “Do you actually make an impact?”  “Does it make sense for you to do this year after year without any discernable effect?” I can only smile in response, because such questions are not real questions, but just superficial remarks.

2014 is our 9th year of work.  During this era of economic change, not only has our band of reporters been making records of China’s 6 great rivers, but has also made a record of the people living along these rivers.  We’ve also helped build a library for the children of the area, so that they have greater educational opportunities.


-Reporter Xiao Lu interviewing farmers along the Yangtze river.


On April 8th, 2014, we set out to visit the river (a month later than last year’s expedition.)  We hoped to see that the river’s pollution had improved, and that local official’s policies had changed.

After interviewing locals, we discovered that Chongqing’s Xiaonanhai Dam had been frozen mid construction.  However, the pharmaceutical factory had not been moved and military tanks had resumed testing nearby.

The locals told us that they were to be compensated with fruit trees and other vegetation.  After many years of waiting, they still haven’t received anything, other than the ruins of a partially assembled dam.   

However, the local people’s Hukou () policy has started to relax.  In China, the Hukou is a household registration system that bestows rights and restrictions based on your place of birth, such as how many children one can have, and how many people are allowed to migrate to the city and work.


-2012 blueprints for the dam


-2012 exhibition for the dam


Back in 2012, the Yangtze River Protection Bureau’s former director Weng Li Da anxiously unveiled plans to build the Chongqing Hydroelectric Dam on Zhongba Island, known as the Xiaonanhai Dam.

 However, completing the dam would cause problems for local fish, especially the Chinese sturgeon and Chinese paddlefish.  Building the dam could block migratory routes and disrupt reproduction cycles, possibly leading to extinction for the already endangered fish.


-The Xiaonanhai Dam in 2012 beginning construction


-2014, the opening ceremony site for the dam.  The grass has grown high since then.


-2014, tanks performing drills near the Luohuang coal power plant.


-2012, outside the Luohuang coal power plant. 


-Wu Dengmin, China’s earliest NGO environmental activist


2 years ago I asked Wu Dengmin if it was true he supported the Xiaonanhai Dam project.  He told me that ever since the Three Gorges Dam had been completed, catastrophes such as droughts and floods worsened.  The people of Chongqing were poorer than ever, and the new Xiaonanhai dam was their hope of economic development.  However much building the dam may harm the environment, I still feel for the people of Chongqing.

Many experts claim that building the dam would be neither scientifically or economically advantageous.  Not only would the dam block migratory patterns of local fish, the energy gains would be insignificant compared to the cost.

Back in 2012, the Three Gorges Dam had a lot of lawsuits filed against it, which may’ve helped facilitate the construction of the Xiaonanhai Dam, but now that there’s no official talk about the Xiaonanhai Dam, we are left to wonder what the reasons for abandoning the project were, whether political or otherwise.

The villagers are hoping that the project can be renewed elsewhere, if the current location on Zhongba Island is unacceptable.  But as it stands now, the island remains as a place of farming.  Many of the young have left the area to find work elsewhere.


Zheng Weixuan, a native of Zhongba island, led us to the constuction site, telling us about a stone inscribed with the words: “Chongqing Yangtze River Hydroelectic Power Station”, but when we arrived, we couldn’t find it.

A staff member of the construction project who preferred to remain anonymous told us that the project has not been cancelled, but wouldn’t comment as to when it would be resumed or under what conditions it would be green-lit again. 

A Chongqing environmental official told us that the reason why it hasn’t started is because it hasn’t passed the EIA (environmental impact assessment).

No matter the reasons why the project had been cancelled, we left the island on a relatively good note.

The next day we planned to travel to the Xiangjiaba Dam, and to talk to the Suijiang people about their life ever since their native homes had been submerged in water.   


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