Feb. 21, 2024
Decade River Profect 2010 (11) South to North Water Transfer Project
South to North Water Transfer Project and hydropower development
 Reported by Yongchen Wang 

The Dadu River becomes a still lake


The Dadu River in Hanyuan

Rivers and Mountains

Yesterday evening we stayed on the banks of the Dadu River in Ebian County. This morning the sky was cloudy as we made our way into Dadu River Canyon National Park.

The Dadu River before power plants were built.( photo by Song Lisha)


The Dadu River before it was tapped as an energy source.(Photo by Song Lisha)


River islet (Photo by Song Lisha)

Yesterday, we saw the Dadu River with its high cliffs and placid water. Today, a part of the river was still flowing rapidly, and everyone on the bus kept yelling at the driver to stop here and there...the magnificent canyon scenery always makes people excited.

I remember the journal entry I wrote on July 9, 2004 when I first came to Hanyuan County with geologist Fan Xiao: 

From my window, I can see the roaring Dadu River and hear the echoing of its song as its waves break and dance.
On July 7, we reached Jinkou River in Leshan County. Thanks to the efforts of Fan Xiao and his colleagues, the area between the Jinkou and Wusi rivers was declared a national park in December 2001. The scenery in the park is unique for its high plateaus. The canyon is 26 kilometers long, with cliff faces averaging 1 to 1.5 km high and reaching 2.6 km at the highest point, and most valleys less than 50 meters wide. The canyon walls are extremely steep, giving them the appearance of nightmarish precipices from some horrible fantasy. Fan Xiao believes that the landscape of the Dadu River Canyon is just as spectacular as other world-famous places. It is 1,000 meters deeper than Colorado's Grand Canyon in the U.S. and twice as deep as the Three Gorges, not to mention much more magnificent.

 The Dadu River in 2004

Dadu River canyon in 2004

Dawa Mountain rises up on one side of the canyon. According to Fan Xiao, viewed from the top of Emei Mountain, Dawa's flat peak emerges from a sea of clouds. On June 5, 1878, Edward Colborne Baber, the first foreigner to climb Dawa Mountain, said “Travelers will come here one day and write magnificent accounts.”

 According to Fan Xiao: “Mountains like Dawa are rare in China, with an elevation of 3,222 meters above sea level, cliffs over 1,000 meters high and a plateau larger than one square kilometer. Only the sandstone Tepuis of Venezuela can compare, but they are at a lower elevation, making Dawa a unique natural wonder.”

The area surrounding Dadu River Canyon also has incredible biodiversity. It's one of the world's most abundant sources of high-elevation temperate plant life. A hundred years ago, the area drew the interest of British adventurer and botanist Hugh Wilson.
However, the building of two huge hydropower stations was authorized before the national park was formally founded. The power plants have capacities of 44 gigawatts and 36 gigawatts, respectively.
Standing beside the canyon, I realized that the Dadu is commonly referred to as a canyon. Scientifically speaking, terrain features are classified as ravines, canyons and slot canyons. A slot canyon is small and narrow with high cliffs and either low or high water levels. A ravine has much less narrow cliff faces, no river beaches and a fast flowing stream. Real canyons, no matter how big or small, always have some river beaches and very rich natural surroundings.
 The Jinkou River section of the Dadu River has many ravines and some slot canyons. Although it's only 26 km long, cliffs on both sides form 90 degree angles. Fan Xiao also believes the raging current and green cliffs of this part of the river are rare and unique.


Dadu River Canyon in the clouds

Rope bridge and waterfall in 2004

In the evening, while having dinner with a local official, we had a heated discussion about whether it was right to build a dam in an area that had already been declared a national park. The experts with the group said that there was a similar controversy in Europe ten years ago, and in the end it was unanimously decided that they wouldn't build any more power plants in national parks.
One official held the view that the power plant was the only desirable path to development. He said, “Even if we didn't build the power plant, we still wouldn't want the national park. It can't bring us any wealth with just its name, what would we want with it?” He believes that when the plants open, the proprietors will have to pay 20 million yuan in annual taxes.
On July 8, 2004, we were on the road that goes from LeShan to Hanyuan County via Ebian, appreciating our first intoxicating glimpses of the towering canyon walls and raging river current, when the hydropower plant came into view. All of a sudden, the beautiful scenery was replaced by rows and rows of trucks on the mountain path, and mounds of yellow, gray and green rubble. In an instant, the canyon scenery became a never-ending stretch of gravel, felled trees and cement.
Fan Xiao told us that the station was 186 meters high with an installed capacity of 3.3 gigawatts. How much money would be spent: 18.6 billion yuan. And to some, this is what's magnificent.
After leaving the construction site, we passed some women holding their children as they sat on the side of the road. We asked, “Will the construction of the dam affect you?” One of the women replied, “Now we can harvest 900 kilos of rice per season. For generations we've planted these fields, what will we do if we lose them?”
As it rained along the river, many villagers approached us and said, “We support national development, and we understand that we have to consider the common good, but while others' lives are getting better, we just want to make sure that the demands placed on us don't get any worse.”
Later we found out that houses in the new town cost 500 yuan per square meter, but people being forced out of the old town were only compensated with 320 yuan per square meter. How the migrants are supposed to compensate for the price disparity, remains unclear.
Hanyuan County is famous for its Sichuan pepper, and its streets are imbued with peace and tranquility. What's sold in the stores of Hanyuan is similar to what you would find in the big city. What's different is the tofu, cured ham and red pepper that's available from the roadside stalls.
Street life in Hanyuan county in 2004.
Daily business on the streets in Hanyuan in 2004.
We were taken to the Dadu River Canyon on the evening of December 3, 2010. In the darkness, the only thing we could see was the floodlit, bustling construction of two dams, Shenxi Gou and Zhentou Ba.
That night, we were invited to dinner by the county government. Two young women, members of the Yi minority, sang and toasted to us during the meal.
Banquet (photo by Song Lisha)
The next day when we tried to go into the canyon, we were told that there was a rockslide and it was too dangerous. Due to safety concerns, we didn't take any more photos of the power plants in the national park. There might be larger-scale construction going on next year, so we'll write more about it for the Decade River Project then. 


The Dadu River before(photo by Song Lisha)
In the Dadu River canyon(photo by Song Lisha)
The Dadu River! The Dadu River! (photo by Songjiong)

After leaving the beloved Dadu River Canyon, we didn't make it to the house of Song Yuanqing, a Hanyuan County migrant we have been following over the course of the Decade River Project.

Because the plants had begun supplying power, many high-energy-consuming factories had started production along the river. As people in the bus were taking photos of the river, the red flames and black smoke from the factories suddenly blighted their camera lenses. 
Factories along the river(photo by Song Lisha)
Vegetable plot near the river(photo by Song Lisha)

We stopped near the Longchi Qianghua cement factory because we wanted to know how the people living there were able to bare such high levels of pollution. 

 Mrs. Li, 58, told us that she and her family had lived in the same house here for a hundred years. For years, she and nearby families have petitioned the companies countless times, but there has been no resolution to their problems, and their children are still growing up breathing the same polluted air.
Our family has lived here for generations(photo by Song Lisha)
The old house (photo by Song Lisha)
The neighbors saw that we were concerned about their health, and they came with complaints one after another. They also brought us to the well that the village association paid to fix, showing us that it was the water as well as the air that was affecting the residents. 
Vegetable plot(photo by Song Lisha) 
What could we do? Every time we came across a situation like this, we would discuss it on the bus. During the years of the project, we've photographed the beautiful environment of southwestern China and the evils committed against it and its people in the name of progress.
A fertile field that will be flooded
The fields in Hanyuan in 2004 before being flooded
Yesterday on the way from Xichang to Shimian, Yang Yong, the chief scientist of the Decade River Project, expressed his worry about the present situation of the rivers and lakes while looking out the window at the passing scenery.
He said, “The exploitation of rivers and lakes shows that the current legal restrictions haven't had any affect. There are laws and regulations for natural reserves, world heritage sites and famous scenic areas, but when progress is persistent, the law can be bent. Today a lot of development projects have become controversial. Even the fragile ecosystem of the Tibetan Plateau is being threatened.”
Yang Yong believes that the second problem is the power struggle between the different government departments, the local government, the interest groups, both strong and weak, resulting in the continued jeopardization, exploitation and irreparable destruction of the environment, and an excessive demand for water.
Yang Yong gave the construction of the western part of the Water Diversion project as an example. There a few power stations are under construction. Global climate change is increasing the rate at which these lakes and rivers are evaporating and reducing the availability of groundwater. At this rate, will there be any water left to dam? After we run out of water, after paying such a price and destroying such a big ecosystem, what will we get out of all this development? Isn't it time we stop and really think about what we are doing?
 Global warming has had such an impact on the western region, is there even enough water left to divert? If there are no changes in the way hydropower is carried out, under current climate and water conditions, the result will be a waste of resources as well as the destruction of the environment. Members of the Decade River Project team fervently hope that as we walk this road together, we observe, consider and express our concerns. We also hope to raise awareness and encourage action from citizens and policymakers! Aspire and strive!
The “yet to be developed” mountains and rivers
Pristine river
Tomorrow we will move to Yingxiu, where the mountains and rivers were hit by an earthquake and secondary disasters. 
Translator: Cui Yafeng
Proofreader: Mark Skinner, Megan