Sichuan Earthquake Damages Dams, May Be Dam-Induced

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Zipingpu Dam, Sep. 14, 2007
Zipingpu Dam, Sep. 14, 2007
AP Photo/GeoEye Satellite Image
The tragic Sichuan Earthquake of May 12, 2008, which killed an estimated 80,000 civilians, also damaged hundreds of dams in Sichuan Province. Soon after the earthquake struck, the Chinese government reported that at least 391 dams had been damaged in the quake, including major cracks on the largest dam in the area, the Zipingpu Dam. Since then, the Ministry of Water Resources has reported that as many as 2,380 dams were damaged in the earthquake. Scientists in China and the US also fear that the earthquake may have been induced by the weight of the Zipingpu reservoir, in a phenomenon known as Reservoir-Induced Seismicity.

According to the State-run Xinhua News Agency, the Zipingpu Dam on the Min River experienced "extremely dangerous" cracks, along with a collapsed powerhouse and other associated facilities. Seismologists from China's Earthquake Bureau had warned the government back in 2000 that the project should not be built given its proximity to a major fault line, yet these warnings were ignored. The government later reported that its experts had inspected the dam and declared it safe, although it is not clear exactly how thorough the inspections have been.

Despite the risks posed to millions of inhabitants downstream if a large dam were to break, the Chinese government continues to build scores of dams in the country's most earthquake-prone region, Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces in southwest China. In light of the damages to the dams, mainland experts, environmental groups, and activists have issued an open letter to the authorities. The letter calls for thorough risk assessments of all large hydropower projects in this region before companies are allowed to go forward with construction.

Follow these links for more information about the earthquake and the damage to the Zipingpu and other dams: