Dam Water in China: Is It Worth It?

In western China, massive dams are being built along 12 waterways. The dams are supposed to aid economic development—but experts are saying it’s likely that the dams will do more harm than good.

Reservoir created by dam, the Pamir Mountains

When China pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40-45 percent of the 2005 levels at the Copenhagen Summit, the latest in a series of UN Climate Change conferences held in 2009, its energy agenda rested on the construction of dams. These dams are emblems of economic development. They create hydropower and control floods. They spread irrigation and, according to their advocates, they increase the nation’s agricultural production via increased irrigation water supply. They are touted as technological marvels, a point of national pride.

Under the New Socialist Countryside program, the Chinese government has pledged $62 billion (U.S.) to construct 12 large dams on China’s western, alpine rivers. In a 2010 paper for the Chinese Journal of Geotechnical Engineering, government engineer Ming-Jiang Deng describes the construction as “an effective measure to control and regulate rational allocation of water resources.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry adds that China is “carrying out [all dam construction efforts] according to the principles of sustainable development.” Dams promise the export of food and power to the heavily populated eastern coast, and therefore the sustained maintenance of the nation. And while all China’s populations deserve food and power, the Ministry’s aerial view fails to acknowledge the ways in which dams degrade riverbeds. Read More >