China’s Mighty Yangtze Is Heaving From Rain and the Three Gorges Will Be Tested - WSJ

Since June 1, historic floods have affected more than 45 million people in 27 provinces

By

Rosa de Acosta and

Max Rust

July 25, 2020 7:03 am ET

Heavy rain has battered central and southern China over the past few weeks, causing widespread flooding—the worst in decades.

China has a long history of deadly floods, including one in 1931 that killed two million people and another in 1998, when, according to government estimates, one-fifth of the country’s population was affected, resulting in the deaths of more than 3,000 people and causing economic damage of more than $20 billion.

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Heavy rain has battered central and southern China over the past few weeks, causing widespread flooding—the worst in decades.

China has a long history of deadly floods, including one in 1931 that killed two million people and another in 1998, when, according to government estimates, one-fifth of the country’s population was affected, resulting in the deaths of more than 3,000 people and causing economic damage of more than $20 billion.

Since the beginning of June this year, the floods have impacted more than 45 million people in 27 of China’s provinces, exacting an economic cost of more than 116 billion yuan ($16.5 billion). According to the Ministry of Emergency Management, 142 people were dead or missing and 35,000 houses had collapsed as of July 23.

In recent years, China has increased government spending on building up flood defense, creating a network of dams all over the country, especially on the Yangtze River, the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world.

China has been pouring money into water conservation projects on major rivers and lakes, but for decades it has neglected smaller bodies of water. Roughly 96% of the 94,000 dams dotting China’s rivers are smaller dikes constructed in the 1950s and 1960s. Poor management of these small dams and streams weakens their ability to divert flood waters from the upper and middle reaches of their respective rivers, creating hidden dangers.

China began building the controversial Three Gorges Dam in 1994, causing more than one million people to relocate and damaging the surrounding environment. The constant rain has also raised concerns about integrity of the dam, prompting officials in recent weeks to directly rebut assertions that the dam was in danger of collapsing.

Heavy rains on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River are raising the water level there and sparking new flooding that is expected to hit the Three Gorges Dam soon. The giant reservoir is currently releasing water to set aside more space for the coming floodwaters, Yangtze River authorities said Friday.

The giant dam is capable of handling inflows of as much as 22.1 million gallons (83.7 million liters) per second to protect the lower reaches. The last flood hit the dam with a peak inflow of 16 million gallons a second last week, raising concerns about the dam’s strength and safety.

—Raffaele Huang and Reddy Zhao contributed to this article.

Write to Max Rust at max.rust@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/chinas-mighty-yangtze-is-heaving-from-rain-and-the-three-gorges-will-be-tested-11595675012