Great Bend, Jinsha River, China

Yangtze River

The Jinsha River (or "River of Golden Sands") is the name of the 2,300-kilometer section of the Yangtze River from Yushu in Qinghai Province to Yibin in Sichuan. Here the river carves a string of grand canyons, home to diverse ethnic minority groups and some of China's most important biodiversity hotspots. The Jinsha River is also at the heart of one of the largest hydropower development areas in the world. Planned hydropower output in this area is equal to about ten times the power produced by the Three Gorges Dam alone. There are about twelve dams in the works for the lower and middle Jinsha River (see map). In addition, major tributaries to the Jinsha River are also being dammed: six dams are planned on the Min River, seventeen on the Dadu River, and twenty-one on the Yalong River.

Farmer/Artisan, Baoshan Village, Jinsha River
Farmer/Artisan, Baoshan Village, Jinsha River

The Jinsha River dams will alter the natural hydrology of the river, threaten fish and local incomes dependent on those fisheries, and inundate millions of acres of farmland and forest, including areas of the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site. To make matters worse, the lower Jinsha River dams are being built in a national protection zone for several species of endangered fish. As many as 360,000 people could be displaced to make way for the dams, including the entire city of Zhaotong. The dams are located in earthquake zones, which pose huge risks to local inhabitants should landslides or cracks in the dams occur.

While the main goal of the Jinsha River dams is to generate electricity which can be transferred to meet demand in China’s east, another purpose is to alleviate sedimentation in the Three Gorges Dam reservoir. Along the lower Jinsha River, four megadams (Xiluodu, Xiangjiaba, Baihetan, and Wudongde) are being constructed by the Three Gorges Project Corporation. Xiluodu Dam alone is estimated to cut silt deposit in the Three Gorges reservoir by 36%.

International Rivers is working with partner groups in China to convince dam builders and financiers to address the serious social and environmental costs of these projects. For more details on specific projects, see our Jinsha River Dams page.

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