China Blocks Destructive Yangtze Dam

Thursday, May 7, 2015

China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection has blocked construction on a controversial megadam that would have flooded the last free-flowing section of the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, the Financial Times reported in April.

The Xiaonanhai Dam would have destroyed rare habitat for endangered fish species, including dozens that are found nowhere else in the world. The stretch of river to be flooded was protected by a national nature reserve, as it is the final remaining spawning ground for many native fish. The boundaries of the nature reserve were however redrawn to allow the dam’s construction.

“We environmental NGOs have worked on this for six years. We really welcome the news,” Zhang Boju of China’s Friends of Nature, told the Financial Times. 

Yangtze fish: More threatened than pandas
The Xiaonanhai area is home to the richest collection of endemic fish species in China and contains the highest number of threatened species in the country. This section of the Upper Yangtze River provides an important ecological corridor for the functional life cycle of endemic fish species and the “Four Great Domestic Fish Species.”

The project would not provide significant returns for its investment, nor would it play a significant role in meeting Chongqing's energy needs. With a higher cost per kilowatt than other dams on the Yangtze, the dam would irreversibly destroy the habitat for around 40 rare and endangered freshwater fish species.

In 2013, WWF China declared that the Yangtze was on the brink of ecological collapse after finding that only 17 of 143 known fish species could still be found in the upper reaches of the river (where it is called the Jinsha). With six megadams already built, three under construction and another 15 planned on the Yangtze, the rejection of Xiaonanhai is a welcome reprieve for China’s mother river.

The decision comes as environmentalists fear that more sensitive hydropower projects could be included in China’s next five year plan to begin in 2016, eliminating the few remaining sections of China’s rivers that are not yet dammed.

The ban on further construction of the Xiaonanhai Dam was not announced formally, but slipped into the approval documents for a different dam, the Financial Times reports.