Three Gorges Dam

Three Gorges Dam Nears Completion
Three Gorges Dam Nears Completion
Seth Rosenblatt

The Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest hydropower project and most notorious dam. The massive project sets records for number of people displaced (more than 1.2 million), number of cities and towns flooded (13 cities, 140 towns, 1,350 villages), and length of reservoir (more than 600 kilometers). The project has been plagued by corruption, spiraling costs, environmental impacts, human rights violationsand resettlement difficulties.

The Three Gorges Dam is a model for disaster, yet Chinese companies are replicating this model both domestically and internationally. Within China, huge hydropower cascades have been proposed and are being constructed in some of China’s most pristine and biologically and culturally diverse river basins - the Lancang (Upper Mekong) River, Nu (Salween) River and upstream of Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River and tributaries.The environmental impacts of the project are profound, and are likely to get worse as time goes on. The submergence of hundreds of factories, mines and waste dumps, and the presence of massive industrial centers upstream are creating a festering bog of effluent, silt, industrial pollutants and rubbish in the reservoir. Erosion of the reservoir and downstream riverbanks is causing landslides, and threatening one of the world’s biggest fisheries in the East China Sea. The weight of the reservoir's water has many scientists concerned over reservoir-induced seismicity. Critics have also argued that the project may have exacerbated recent droughts by withholding critical water supply to downstream users and ecoystems, and through the creation of a microclimate by its giant reservoir. In 2011, China's highest government body for the first time officially acknowledged the "urgent problems" of the Three Gorges Dam.

Pollution in the Three Gorges Reservoir
Pollution in the Three Gorges Reservoir
International Rivers

Through the Three Gorges Project, China has acquired the know-how to build large hydropower schemes, and has begun exporting similar projects around the world. Now that the project's problems have been acknowledged, it is important to draw lessons from the experience so that the problems of the Yangtze dam are not repeated.

While Three Gorges is the world’s biggest hydro project, the problems at Three Gorges are not unique. Around the world, large dams are causing social and environmental devastation while better alternatives are being ignored.

International Rivers protects rivers and defends the rights of the communities which depend on them. We monitor the social and environmental problems of the Three Gorges Dam, and work to ensure that the right lessons are drawn for energy and water projects in China and around the world.

Learn more about the problems with large dams and the global movement to protect rivers and rights.


More information: 
  • Learn more about the final filling of the reservoir.
  • Read International Rivers' latest factsheet on the legacy of Three Gorges Dam.
  • View our Flickr set of images from the Three Gorges reservoir and resettlement.
  • Read the latest on the problem of Reservoir-Induced Seismicity (or RIS) in China and worldwide.
  • See a New York Times video about the plight of those displaced by Three Gorges Dam.
  • Read a New York Times article about the social and environmental problems with the Three Gorges Dam.
  • See the feature film Up the Yangtze, about one family impacted by the Three Gorges Dam.
  • Read a Science news article on the environmental challenges to the Three Gorges Dam.