A Journey on the River Yangtze

The World's Largest Construction Project: The Three Gorges Dam

A model of the completed Three Gorges Dam.


We docked at the town of San Dou Ping and departed on some buses to get to the dam site. At the dam site, there is an interpretation building with a model of the dam (seen above), which represents the completed dam.

An interesting sculpture (shown below) near the building tells the story of the interaction of humans with the Yangtze in this watershed.


The Three Gorges Dam is located almost in the middle of Xiling Gorge. When it is completed the water level will rise by only about 10 percent of the height of the gorges. So, the overall height of the dam, at least in this area, will not create dramatic changes. For a map of the dam location click here.

This is an incredible venture and undertaking. The statistics for this development are incredible:

  • the world's largest dam--4 times larger than the Hoover Dam
  • Height: 185 m (600 feet)
  • Length: 1.983 km (1.24 miles)
  • Water Height: 175 m above sea level (570 ft)
  • Cost: Original estimates in 1990 were US$12 billion, recent estimates put the cost at US$30 billion
  • Financing: 90% Chinese and 10% foreign investment
  • Construction: 15-18 years
  • 3 hours shifts, 24 hours/day
  • 25,000 workers onsite--40% women
  • Completion date: 2009
  • Materials used: 10.82 million tons cement, 1.92 million tons rolled steel, 1.6 million cubic meters timber
  • Reservoir created: 576 km (360 miles) long--the length of Lake Superior
  • Land submerged: 13 cities, 140 towns, 1,352 villages, 657 factories and approx. 75,000 acres of cultivated land
  • Relocations: 12,679 communities totaling 1.3 million people

The lock system that will be used by larger vessels to pass through the dam.


When the dam is completed, it will take large vessels about two and a half hours to be raised the 185 m through the lock system. Smaller vessels will be able to use an elevator-type lock, which will raise them to the height of the reservoir much more quickly.

A plaque with the model of the dam.

The scale of this project is difficult to imagine but this image may help you visualize the enormity of the contruction process.



Workers walk around near the edges of one layer of the area shown in the previous image. Use them as scale to visualize the height of the dam.


Why is a dam this large required?

  • The main reason is for flood control--it is expected that it will reduce the severity of flooding by 90 percent.
  • The next reason is navigation--it will allow the passage of 10,000 ton ships to Chongqing instead of the limited 5,000 ton ships. It will also allow ships to sail throughout the year.
  • Finally, energy production--through hydroelectric power generation it is estimated that 15 percent of China's electricity will be produced, saving an estimated 50 million tons of coal.

Of course there are also reasons why some people think that the river should not be dammed. These include the points that:

  • navigation may actually be hindered by the heavy sediment buildup in the reservoir
  • the reservoir could only store a fraction of the flood waters entering the river
  • the dam will actually flood some of the best agricultural land in the region
  • over one hundred sites of cultural and historical importance will be lost in the reservoir.

However, the project is continuing 24 hours a day, 25,000 construction workers, 40 percent of whom are women. All the relocations are to be completed by 2003.

This section of the dam will be completed by 2003 .

What do you think of the dam project?

Click here to read about a
Journey on the River Yangtze.

Return to the
Yangtze River Home Page

Center for Global Environmental Education
Hamline University Graduate School of Education
1536 Hewitt Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55104-1284
Phone: 651-523-2480 Fax: 651-523-2987