UK newspaper The Guardian is reporting that the controversial plan to dam Yunnan's Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡) has been scrapped.
The sparing of the gorge and its 100,000 inhabitants – who would have been forced to relocate to much less hospitable terrain – may be the biggest win to date for mainland environmentalists. The victory may only be a pyrrhic one, as other portions of the Yangtze River's upper reaches, known in Yunnan as the Jinsha River (金沙江) are under consideration for hydropower projects.
Tiger Leaping Gorge is where a roughly 15-kilometer stretch of the Jinsha runs between 5,596-meter Yulong Snow Mountain (玉龙雪山) and 5,396-meter Haba Snow Mountain (哈巴雪山). The gorge features 2,000-meter cliffs leading above intense rapids that are not considered navigable.
The area has traditionally been home to more than 100,000 residents, most of whom are from the Naxi ethnic minority. Since opening to foreign tourists in 1993, the gorge has seen a steady increase in tourist visits, which has led to road improvements and construction of several guesthouses along the 'high road' above the river.
The decision to spare the gorge from being dammed and filled will likely benefit tourism to the area, which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Three Parallel Rivers Protected Areas. However it is unlikely to be the end of new hydropower projects, as it is thought that damming the Jinsha could prevent the flow of silt downstream to the Three Gorges Dam.
Silt is considered a threat to the navigability of the Yangtze, which is expected to be able to handle increasing levels of containerized sea-going barge traffic as far west as Chongqing in the coming years.
Some officials are also proponents of using the damming of the Jinsha to flush out the pollution that has accumulated in Kunming's Dianchi Lake, which is one of China's largest and most polluted freshwater lakes. China's second-largest hydropower project at Xiluodu began construction in November of last year.