Following nearly ten years of bureaucratic indecision surrounding the project, it appears China's last major free-flowing river will be dammed. The South China Morning Post (SCMP) is reporting Beijing has officially approved long-stalled plans to build hydroelectric dams on Yunnan's Nu River (怒江).
The SCMP report quotes a State Council blueprint released January 23 that reads in part, "Hydropower bases on the Nu River and the upper reaches of the Jinsha and Lancang will be kicked off in an orderly manner."
The document goes on to say implementation of the damming projects will begin no later than 2015. If fully executed, the plan would include the construction of four hydropower projects on the Nu River and 54 other "key stations" in the Three Parallel Rivers Protected Areas. Any construction along the Nu River will have to pass environmental and seismic impact reports.
Located in Lijiang, Diqing and Nujiang prefectures, the Three Parallel Rivers region contains the north-south flowing Jinsha (金沙江), Lancang (澜沧江) and Nu Rivers. The Nu River is the westernmost of the three and flows through what is often referred to as the Grand Canyon of the East.
The three parallel rivers pass through steep gorges that reach 3,000 meters in depth and are flanked by glaciated mountains that soar as high as 6,000 meters. The site is made up of eight protected geographic clusters and is considered one of the most biologically diverse temperate areas in the world.
Efforts to dam the Nu River were scrapped at the order of Premier Wen Jiaobao in 2004. Wen, a geologist by training, suspended construction plans and commissioned a series of environmental and geological impact studies regarding the dam. This was seen as an early victory for Chinese environmentalists. However, those same activists are claiming the revived Nu River dam projects were approved without public discussion or transparency, according to the SCMP report.
Since the 2004 moratorium, the project has resurfaced repeatedly in the news — most notably in 2008 when then Yunnan party chief Bai Enpei remarked that building a dam on the Nu River were an inevitability. In 2011 energy giant China Huadian Group unveiled plans for a dam on the Nu River but until last week no official word had been issued by the government.
The United Nations (UN) has in the past threatened to delist the Three Parallel Rivers from its list of World Heritage Sites due to concerns about over-development and environmental degradation. As of this writing, the UN has released no statement regarding these new developments.
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