The controversy highlights some major differences between groups that see hydro-power as a sustainable solution to China's ever-growing need for power and those that fear industrialization plans are often made without addressing environmental concerns.
At the center of the quarrel are two men, Yang Yong, head of the China Foundation for Desertification Control and Zhang Boting, deputy secretary general of the China Society for Hydropower Engineering. The two have been trading barbs since mid-May when Zhang published a series of 11 articles defending dam projects along the Jinsha River.
As evidence in support of the damming projects he cited similar initiatives in other countries such as the Tennessee Valley Authority in the United States. Zhang has also called Yang a "pseudo-scientist" who doesn't understand the situation.
The current plans for 24 dams along the Jinsha River call for consecutive hydroelectric sites roughly every 100 kilometers. When completed, those dams are projected to produce four times more energy than the Three Gorges Dam generates each year.
Conversely, Yang argues that the series of cascade-style dams either currently under construction or in planning stages, will make large swathes of the river stagnant. He is also concerned construction would seriously impede fish migration and downstream silt distribution.
Yang further countered that Zhang was comparing the circumstances in China to entirely different situations elsewhere. He accuses Zhang of misquoting data regarding foreign dam projects. Yang has been voicing his concerns regarding hydroelectric initiatives along the Jinsha River and their possible negative environmental impacts since 2004.
This is not the first time hydropower projects on the Jinsha River have been called into question. The Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection suspended two dam projects in 2009 for failing to conduct proper environmental impact studies. A year earlier plans to dam Tiger Leaping Gorge were scrapped due to local protest and environmental concerns.
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