Chinese Government Urges Dam Operators at Maximum Capacity to Hold Back the Flood

Three Gorges Dam. China News Service / CC BY

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Authorities have ordered dam operators to try to hold back incoming flood water, as Chinese manufacturing and farming heartland cities in the Yangtze Delta are bracing for yet more severe flooding. The same order given by Chinese authorities in similar circumstances in 1975 led to the deaths of up to a quarter of a million people.

China on alert for Yangtze River flooding as storms close in

Water resources minister urges dams in upper reaches to ease as much pressure as possible on downstream areas still recovering from last month’s inundation

Residents in Shaanxi province told to move to higher ground amid threat of flash floods

Alice Yan in Shanghai
Published: 7:01pm, 17 Aug, 2020

Heavy rain is expected across China’s southwest, northwest and northeast in the next three days, raising flood risks and pressure on dams, weather forecasters have warned.

The Ministry of Water Resources urged local authorities to be on alert, particularly along the upper reaches of the Yangtze River and the middle reaches of the Yellow, Hai, Songhua and Liao rivers.

The National Meteorological Centre said Sichuan province in the country’s southwest would be particularly hard hit, with up to 300mm (11.8 inches) of rain forecast for Monday.

Between 30-50mm of rain is expected to fall per hour in the provinces of Yunnan, Gansu, Shaanxi, Hebei, Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang, rising to over 70mm an hour in some scattered areas.

Read more:

Pressuring operators of dams which are already at or near maximum capacity to try to hold back anticipated severe flooding in my opinion puts the structural integrity of the entire river system at risk.

One of the worst dam failures in history occurred in 1975, after Typhoon Nina dumped water upstream of the Banqiao Dam. Whistle blower Chen Xing had warned Banqiao Dam was defective but his warnings were ignored. Authorities rejected a plea from dam operators on August 6th to open the floodgates. This order to keep the flood gates closed was rescinded on August 7th, too late to save the dam.

Up to a quarter of a million people are estimated to have died because of the Banqiao Dam failure.

This year Typhoon Hagupit struck the Yangtze River headwaters. Continuing severe rainfall is striking already waterlogged ground. Whistle blower and renowned geologist Fan Xiao’s warnings about the structural integrity of Three Gorges have been dismissed by authorities. And now once again Chinese authorities are putting pressure on operators of dams which are already sitting at or near maximum capacity to do their best to hold back the flood.

Let us hope that history does not repeat itself. 400 million people live in the Yangtze River Delta, downstream of the Three Gorges Dam.

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Ron Long
August 23, 2020 6:07 am

Eric, let’s guess that the people making these inadvisable orders don’t live below the dams in question.

Elisheva Levin
Reply to  Ron Long
August 23, 2020 9:20 am

They’re like the Washington DC crowd. They have no idea what the situation is on the ground. And they have every reason to give the orders. When they kill all those people, they have some show trials of surviving dam operators.

Like Chernobyl.

michael hart
Reply to  Ron Long
August 23, 2020 12:15 pm

Call me a pedant, but the Chinese Government are not in the habit of “urging” people to do anything. They are in the habit of issuing orders they expect to be obeyed.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 23, 2020 5:51 pm

You are correct – it’s called power distance

Reply to  Waza
August 24, 2020 1:29 am

Looks suspiciously like something Catbert developed.

August 23, 2020 6:16 am

Speaking of dam failures:
“The Johnstown Flood (locally, the Great Flood of 1889) occurred on May 31, 1889, after the catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam, located on the south fork of the Little Conemaugh River, 14 miles (23 km) upstream of the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The dam broke after several days of extremely heavy rainfall, releasing 14.55 million cubic meters of water.[4] With a volumetric flow rate that temporarily equaled the average flow rate of the Mississippi River,[5] the flood killed more than 2,200 people[6] and accounted for $17 million of damage (about $484 million in 2019 dollars[3]).”

David Baird
Reply to  u.k.(us)
August 23, 2020 10:20 am

And also the flood of 1977. I lived North of Cambria Co. and remember the nightly news clips after the flood.
On July 19, 1977, a deluge of rain hit the area around Johnstown during the night. Nearly 12 inches (300 mm) of rain fell in 24 hours when a thunderstorm stalled over the area, and six dams in the area over-topped and failed. The largest dam to fail was the Laurel Run Dam, releasing over 101 million gallons (382,000 m3) of water that poured through the village of Tanneryville, killing 41 people. The combination of the other five dams[2] released another 27 million gallons (100,000 m3), not counting the water from rains. Well over 128 million gallons (485,000 m3) of water from the dams alone poured down the valley, and by dawn Johnstown was inundated with six feet of water.

Grumpy Bill
Reply to  u.k.(us)
August 23, 2020 12:16 pm

To help for for the damage, the state of PA enacted a temporary tax on liquor. That “temporary” tax still exists.

Dave Allentown
Reply to  Grumpy Bill
August 23, 2020 1:45 pm

Nothing is permanent in this world other than a temporary tax.

Grumpy Bill
Reply to  Grumpy Bill
August 23, 2020 2:53 pm

Oops…should have been “pay for” above, not “for for”.

Reply to  u.k.(us)
August 23, 2020 3:59 pm

Dams have been built for 1000s of years.
But modern hydrology and hydraulics only dates from the 1960s.

Javert Chip
Reply to  Waza
August 23, 2020 4:24 pm


Craig from Oz
Reply to  Waza
August 23, 2020 5:02 pm

Sorry Waza, but not sure your point.

With the exception of things such as telecommunications and space exploration you can use the words ‘modern’ and ‘1960s’ for just about anything.

What are we trying to discuss here?

Reply to  Waza
August 23, 2020 6:40 pm

Sorry I should have provided more info.
The point is dams constructed before modern hydrological assessment of rainfall statistics and modern understanding of spillway hydraulics, can’t be compared to modern dams.
The Banqiao dam that collapsed in 1975 was hastily built in 1952 without appropriate rainfall data.
In the last five years I have been involved in the construction of two really small dams(under 100ML). But as theses dams posed a risk to human life, a full risk analysis was required. I am confident they can withstand a statistical 1 in 10,000 storm event.
The three gorges dam should have been designed using modern engineering and risk assessment. It should not fail because of the amount of rainfall or it’s operational manual being adhered to.

Additionally, every modern dam should have so many redundancies in their design, any so-called increase in rainfall due to climate change should be easily accommodated .
It is not guaranteed that older dams can accommodate theses changes

Reply to  Waza
August 30, 2020 5:52 pm

WRONG; Mr. Expert, the only Problem with Three Gorges Dam is its Location, the Three consecutive Gorges are too narrow for a Dam to be built there, land-slips ( Landslides that impact River ) are caused by Dam holding back Water at fluctuations and the Yangtze is a Raging River that the Dam only has the ability to control when fear of over-topping is Not at issue !

Reply to  Waza
August 23, 2020 11:04 pm

Hmmm, the Boulder Dam has survived since 1935-36 … (before modern hydrology and it seems to be OK, don’t know if it has ever had any “issues”):


Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Jon P Peterson
August 24, 2020 1:27 am

There have been problems with Hoover Dam.
And Glen Canyon Dam is far newer, and both had severe problems in 1983.
Only plywood kept the water from overtopping Glen Canyon dam in that year.
The water was inches from the top of the spillways.
The spillways were badly damaged.
Half a million gallons a second were being released, and it was almost not enough.
And when that water that was released to save Glen Canyon reached Lake Mead, the spillways at Hoover likewise suffered severe damage when they were used for only the second time. They were damaged the first time as well.
It might have ended badly for both dams that year.

August 23, 2020 6:32 am

If a dam upstream fails, my guess is the surge of water coming down a river already at flood level would be catastrophic. If water levels behind the Three Gorges Dam start topping it, I certainly would run, not walk as fast I could to higher ground.

I recall reading warnings about building the Three Gorges Dam when it was being built pointing to huge amounts of flooding in the past. Best of luck to the Chinese people. Most have no choice in this.

Steve Case
Reply to  rbabcock
August 23, 2020 10:11 am

It’s happened here too:

William Mulhalland was cleared of any criminal culpability.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  rbabcock
August 24, 2020 3:59 pm

Just further proof of the superiority of nuclear power when it comes to safety. The Banqiao Reservoir Dam failure in 1975 killed 26,000 people outright, and another 145,000 from famine and disease thereafter. Chernobyl, arguably the worst possible nuclear reactor failure, hasn’t claimed within two orders of magnitude of that many lives even in the fever-dreamed anti-nuclear activist’s minds. And though Baquiao was probable the deadliest hydroelectric dam failure, it is far from the only one. Many more thousands have perished worldwide from these accidents.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
August 24, 2020 4:01 pm

I should have added that Chernobyl was the only nuclear power plant accident to have caused fatalities. Three Mile Island and Fukushima, the other two high-profile accidents, and a host of smaller incidents, have produced zero fatalities.

Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
August 25, 2020 12:38 pm

SL-1 back in 1961 was the first in my knowledge but it was not a commercial reactor nor widely advertised:

Bob boder
August 23, 2020 6:33 am

I think the Chinese government is evil, but we should do everything we can to help them in this situation.

Reply to  Bob boder
August 23, 2020 7:46 am

Let’s buy up the world’s supply of sand bags.

Bryan A
Reply to  Bob boder
August 23, 2020 8:42 am

China SHOULD act accordingly in this case as, with 400,000,000 living in the flash flood zone in the Yangtze River Valley, their loss would do undue damage on China’s ability to utilize “Per Capita” figures for CO2 production

Reply to  Bob boder
August 23, 2020 12:30 pm

I bought a new truck I can’t afford. It’s an F150. I put a camper on it that is too heavy, and I pull a large boat that I can’t afford.

I don’t maintain any of it; the money I do have I use to keep up appearances (detailing the truck, camper, boat … Christmas lights … lawn care … that kind of stuff). The brakes are shot in the truck & the trailer brakes locked up so I disconnected them (I almost ran over a kid on the way to the lake last weekend).

I’m hoping to go to the lake again next weekend (it’s gonna be hot again and the AC in the house is out) … do you think you could help me out with a few buck for gas?

Reply to  DonM
August 23, 2020 12:37 pm

Brilliant Don …

Reply to  sendergreen
August 23, 2020 3:28 pm



Mind, I’m a bit concerned about the UK Government – and other Western administrations, as well.
Also they appear – to me – to be hosing the landscape with huge amounts of money they don’t yet have.
They may get that cash.
It may be needed [Covid decisions are easy to criticise in hindsight] now.

And some of them are swigging the ACGW Kool-Aid as if someone else is paying . . . .

Oh – wait.
We taxpayers will be expected – required – to pay. Ahhh.

Javert Chip
Reply to  DonM
August 23, 2020 4:28 pm


That is the most perfect imitation of NYC or Chicago that I’ve ever seen!

Reply to  Bob boder
August 23, 2020 12:33 pm

and remember, it’s not for me … it’s more for my kids & their friends.

Javert Chip
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 23, 2020 4:36 pm

Eric Worrall

I know zip about dams.

Several recent articles mention the forces the Three Gorges Dam is under. Are there any engineering studies (satellite photos?) documenting physical stress on the dam? Other than being full & visibly leaking, what would physical stress of that magnitude actually look like?

Reply to  Javert Chip
August 24, 2020 1:30 am

i dont know anything about dams either except that whenever governments get involved in decisions about releasing water from them to prevent floods , they usually screw up. Refer to the Brisbane floods here in Oz of a few years back. Also China is incredibly corrupt so the dams could well be impeccably designed but if built with dodgy concrete to make a few extra bucks, what could be the consequences of that.? I have seen a story already that the three gorges dam is bulging. if I were Chinese person downstream of that dam, I think I would be trying to get on the planes for students back into Australia. Australian citizens cannot travel across state borders in our own country but some of our equally corrupt and incompetent universities seem to have persuaded at least one state government to bring some Chinese students back into the country to stop them going broke.

Harry Davidson
Reply to  Quilter
August 24, 2020 11:48 am

“What could be the consequences of that?”. A depleted round into the back of the neck up into the skull.

Reply to  Bob boder
August 28, 2020 4:07 am

Bob Boder: As the saying goes “Help yourself before God helps you” China must use all of their resources first to help its people in lieu of building all of those man-made fortresses in the East sea and/or colonizing Africa via what they called “Aids”. I will go cold turkey when any disaster – no matter how severe – strikes China because of the CCP’s arrogance so help me God !

August 23, 2020 6:41 am

“Captain, she cann’a hold! She’s gonna blow!”. Beam me up Scotty!

Jeffrey H Kreiley
August 23, 2020 6:59 am

Going on Google Earth you’ll see many bends downriver, with most bends appearing to be heavily populated. In the past these bends were probably fertile flood plains with folks living higher up.

John Bell
August 23, 2020 7:23 am

A good dam ought to withstand being over topped, with a spillway.

Reply to  John Bell
August 23, 2020 7:51 am

Spill way and over topping are completely different topics. Even dams with spillways can be over topped.

Reply to  John Bell
August 23, 2020 9:24 am

The dam design seems to be able to be overtopped and drowned without failure. Failure of the abutments through scouring may be possible but even that seems unlikely.

I would guess that the 3 Gorges Dam is unlikely to fail even if it completely drowns. Of course drowning would require a remarkable increase in inflow which still seems unlikely.

Reply to  Keitho
August 23, 2020 12:04 pm

So you are not paying attention to what is happening in central China right now. Got it.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 23, 2020 1:18 pm

Eric Worrall says :
I read a claim the base of the dam is not anchored to the bedrock, and welding in some parts of the dam reinforcing is substandard. The region is also prone to Earth tremors.

Sadly it sounds like fate might be preparing for a large application of Murphy’s Law.

Richard G.
Reply to  sendergreen
August 24, 2020 10:04 am

I would refer you to “Fudd’s First Principle Of Opposition: If you push something hard enough it will fall over.”-Firesign Theater.

Lord help the Chinese people endure their burdens.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 23, 2020 4:04 pm

Yes I was going to make a post about this. There appears to be a serious flaw(s) and there are images of the structure having actually moved.

Craig from Oz
Reply to  Patrick MJD
August 23, 2020 5:09 pm

Are these actual images? Or that picture that was doing the rounds last month that has been smudged to there and back again?

I don’t have a lot to do with concrete, but in my semi educated experience once something like that has actually moved it has already failed.

Unlike Climate Models(tm), physical structures do tend to have a tipping point.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Patrick MJD
August 23, 2020 7:14 pm

“Craig from Oz August 23, 2020 at 5:09 pm”

Back in 1995-ish I lived in New Zealand and flatted with a guy who used to work for a power company, I don’t recall which one now. He used to run simulations on how the Clyde dam on the Southern Island would handle a big earth quake, 6.5 and above. He said the dam was designed to move up to 6m in any direction. Pretty impressive if you think about it.

But I think the reports of the 3 Gorges dam moving are based on poor quality images.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
August 23, 2020 8:20 pm

Patrick MJD says :

… He used to run simulations on how the Clyde dam on the Southern Island would handle a big earth quake, 6.5 and above. He said the dam was designed to move up to 6m in any direction. Pretty impressive if you think about it.
The Japanese are likely the best in the world at earthquake preparedness, yet they got surprised out of their mawashi’s by the both the intensity, and the local seafloor slumps supercharging of wave-heights of the 2011 Tokoku Quake. They overbuilt a safety margin into their wave protection based on what they thought was the maximum magnitude those faults could produce. Nature looked at her hidden poker hand and raised them a magnitude and a half. There is a lesson here.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Patrick MJD
August 23, 2020 10:25 pm

“sendergreen August 23, 2020 at 8:20 pm

Nature looked at her hidden poker hand and raised them a magnitude and a half. There is a lesson here.”

One that we never seem to learn. The Japanese also developed a type paint for buildings to stop them from falling down. Nature always has the upper hand, always had and always will.

James Fosser
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 23, 2020 6:11 pm

Concrete is malleable until it is cured fully. Therefore the dam can move if (1). The concrete has not fully cured or (2). The concrete was supplied by the lowest bidder and has not fully cured and (3) Mr Worrall’s read claims and allegations hold water!

Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 23, 2020 11:36 pm

Having lived in China and seen first hand how poor the workmanship of the construction is, I genuinely fear for the millions of people living downstream of the Three Gorges Dam.

The Chinese call such structures “tofu buildings”.

August 23, 2020 7:27 am

Dams failing upstream will have a domino effect. Perhaps that is what CCP is working towards, a large reduction of population.

Reply to  2hotel9
August 23, 2020 7:46 am

If that were the case, they’d aim the reduction somewhere else. The Yangtze river valley contains a massive portion of their industrial and high tech manufacturing base, along with key transportation hubs and power generation facilities. If that dam collapses, it will completely gut their economy and leave huge swatches of the country without power and food, or the ability to distribute emergency supplies.

Reply to  Archer
August 25, 2020 5:15 am

My point, precisely. CCP sees dead Chinese, starving Chinese and impoverished Chinese as positives in their current 5 year plan. THEY will live in luxury and wealth, the people will do as ordered, even after death.

Reply to  2hotel9
August 23, 2020 10:29 am

Planned Population (PP)? There are multiple precedents where the communists indulged wicked solutions.

Reply to  n.n
August 23, 2020 12:03 pm

Throughout China’s history the lives of peasants have always been cheap, communism just took it to a whole new low.

Reply to  2hotel9
August 23, 2020 1:14 pm

“Throughout *human* history the lives of peasants have always been cheap…” and it’s still as true as ever in most places.

John Endicott
Reply to  MorinMoss
August 24, 2020 9:20 am

As we are talking about China, it’s perfectly correct to talk specifically about “China’s history” regardless of how applicable the comment is to human history in “most places”.

Reply to  2hotel9
August 23, 2020 6:57 pm

Bottom line: The people of China are an expendable and replaceable natural resource for their government.

Ian W
Reply to  Rah
August 23, 2020 8:33 pm

Keep that in mind when you think about COVID-19

Reply to  n.n
August 23, 2020 12:18 pm

And like most failed, or failing Socialist / Communist regimes, fabricated and channeled blame for failures on internal, and external “enemies” Stalin called them “wreckers, working with foreign powers”. Let’s see who the CCP blames first for the floods themselves … then for whatever future failures that occur during.

Laughingly this week Venezuela’s foreign Minister accused Canada, repeat … Canada with undermining their country with the intent of stealing their wealth.

Repeat again … Canada … stealing Venezuelan … umm wealth? In a land where people ate their pets a year ago ?

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  sendergreen
August 23, 2020 8:41 pm

I’m shocked that our secret is out, we of course need Venezuela’s heavy oil because we have none

Oh, wait a minute…

Reply to  Pat from kerbob
August 23, 2020 8:56 pm

Aye, my brother did 3 years at Puerto La Cruz then a year at “The Fort” as penance before rstiring.

Reply to  sendergreen
August 24, 2020 2:59 am

Venezuela has wealth? I thought Hugo Chavez’ daughter had stolen it all when she moved to Miami (fortune estimated at $4 BILLION).

Reply to  Graemethecat
August 24, 2020 9:57 am

daughter has it….

somebody in Canada wants to take some, or all of it …

Canada is trying to take away the wealth of Venezuela.

it is simple logic.

John Endicott
Reply to  sendergreen
August 24, 2020 9:32 am

Sharon: Should we blame the government?
Liane: Or blame society?
Dads: Or should we blame the images on tv?
Sheila: No, blame Canada
Everyone: Blame Canada
Sheila: With all their beady little eyes
And flapping heads so full of lies
Everyone: Blame Canada
Blame Canada
Sheila: We need to form a full assault
Everyone: It’s Canada’s fault!

Reid McLaughlin
Reply to  John Endicott
August 25, 2020 2:13 pm

Well, at least this time it is not the US’s fault

August 23, 2020 7:27 am

For details and the dangers see: Will the Oroville Dam Survive the ArKStorm?

This is soberingly similar to official assurances that “Iron” dam Soviet design of China’s Banqiao Dam was invincible (Si 1998). Officials had even authorized retaining another 32 million cubic meters of water above the dam’s safe design capacity. Yet some 171,000 to 230,000 people died from the 1975 catastrophic failure of China’s Banqiao Dam and Shimantan Dams, when deluged by Super Typhoon Nina being blocked by a cold front. See Britannica, Fish (2013), Si (1998), Ingomar200 (2013). That, with the domino failure of sixty downstream dams, displaced eleven million people.

Are China’s dams sufficiently better to avoid that 1975 catastrophe.
More importantly, are they designed & managed for a 1 in 1000 year rainfall/flooding?
Many US & California dams are NOT well maintained and are NOT designed to handle the 1 in 1000 year ArKStorm level rainfall and flooding. That could cause twice the damage of a massive California earthquake.

Smart Rock
Reply to  David L Hagen
August 23, 2020 8:53 am

It’s not particularly difficult to estimate a 1,000 year flood flow if you have decent hydrological records for the river. But if there are multiple dams on a river, and an upstream dam fails, it can lead to downstream flows that exceed the 1,000 year maximum. Engineers should factor this in and provide spillways that can handle such an event without overtopping the dam.

Did the designers of Three Gorges do this? And did they estimate the effects of cascading failures of upstream dams to be built after Three Gorges? Their spillway doesn’t look that big to me, it’s only 20 metres wide. I wonder.

Reply to  Smart Rock
August 23, 2020 1:33 pm

“It’s not particularly difficult to estimate a 1,000 year flood flow if you have decent hydrological records for the river. ”

Correct, but you have to use Hurst-Kolmogorov statistics, or you are likely to get a very nasty surprise. Floods are not normally distributed.

Javert Chip
Reply to  David L Hagen
August 23, 2020 4:44 pm

California is not well maintained for the once a year horrible fire(s).

Reply to  David L Hagen
August 23, 2020 7:06 pm

Modern dams should easily accommodate 1 in 1000 year storm events.
They should be designed using detailed risk assessment.
The risk assessment shouldn’t just be about rainfall, but should include many potential scenarios. – earthquakes, terrorism, malfunction ( valves, gates, turbines), human error in operation

Adam Gallon
August 23, 2020 7:36 am
Reply to  Adam Gallon
August 23, 2020 8:16 am

That’s from July, pardon the pun, but the situation is fluid.

Reply to  Scissor
August 23, 2020 5:01 pm

Groan but ya made me smile.

August 23, 2020 7:47 am

I am unsure that 400 million dead is not the goal of the CCP. That would simplify the equation in a lot of ways.

Bryan A
Reply to  Martin
August 23, 2020 8:44 am

But drastically affect their “Per Capita” carbon claims

Bob boder
Reply to  Bryan A
August 24, 2020 1:25 pm


August 23, 2020 7:52 am

I am having a lot of trouble feeling sorry for the ChiComs.

Rich Davis
Reply to  SMC
August 23, 2020 1:47 pm

How about the 93.5% who are not CCP members, who played no role in covering up the covid-19 disaster?

Maybe spare a thought or a prayer for them?

There’s probably little or nothing we can do to help even if the Xi regime were willing to let us.

August 23, 2020 7:57 am

My 20/20 hindsight goggles are getting me to wonder why they don’t put in a bypass, essentially a pipeline from the dam to the sea in case of overcapacity, especially considering their past history. Dams for the Chinese ought to be 1000x scarier than nuclear power for the Japanese or the people near 3 Mile Island.

August 23, 2020 8:00 am

I’m guessing that releasing the water in a controlled manner might save the dams but would result in severe damage downstream.

Thing one: Don’t build on a flood plain.
Thing two: If you’re on a flood plain, take some kind of mitigation measures beforehand.

As far as I can tell, one of the more successful flood mitigation measures is the Winnipeg Floodway.

I realize that the Red River is just a backwater creek compared with China’s largest rivers but, given the history of floods and devistation in China, such a project would pay dividends far into the future.

Reply to  commieBob
August 23, 2020 8:18 am

So you’re saying you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

Reply to  Scissor
August 23, 2020 9:37 am

They’re dammed now and, if they’re really lucky, they might still be dammed later (but I wouldn’t count on it).

August 23, 2020 8:07 am

The current Google Earth photo of Three Gorges shows the dam to have already slid downstream by many feet in several spots around the middle portion. It seems to be failing.

Reply to  DHR
August 23, 2020 8:33 am

That doesn’t seem likely. Please post a link that contains some frame of reference.

Reply to  DHR
August 23, 2020 8:45 am

The photos I’ve seen that have shown “significant displacement” were actually badly stitched-together image composites. Such displacements, if real, would have been readily apparent in photos taken along the length of the dam, but were not visible in such photos.

Reply to  DaveK
August 23, 2020 10:23 am

Exactly — seen it in plenty of Google-Earth views, especially when viewing in 3D.

Bryan A
Reply to  DHR
August 23, 2020 8:47 am

Google Earth 3d rendering leaves much to be desired when it comes to skinning the OH imagery onto the topographic database

Reply to  DHR
August 23, 2020 9:39 am

Concrete doesn’t bend, it breaks.
Had sections of the dam moved by several feet, the whole thing would have collapsed.

Reply to  MarkW
August 23, 2020 3:11 pm

“Concrete doesn’t bend, it breaks.”

Doesn’t bend eh?

Reply to  Dergy
August 23, 2020 6:48 pm

If you had been around at the time this picture was being taken, and gone out to look at that concrete, you would have found it full of cracks.

Robert of Ottawa
August 23, 2020 8:09 am

The Three Gorges dam was supposed to prevent the annual flooding. Looks like it has become decadal meg flooding.

Just Jenn
August 23, 2020 8:20 am

Oh man…..

I’m not an engineer, nor will I play one from my chair or on TV. /sarc

I can’t even fathom the fear and stress this is causing the people that live there. Imagine every cloud in the sky bringing intense anxiety–I can’t and I’ve been through a flood and I still can’t.

My heart goes out to those in peril.

Steve Taylor
Reply to  Just Jenn
August 23, 2020 8:48 am

Yeah, people may live under different political systems, but, from visiting 36 countries over the course of my career, the one constsnt is people are the same. We all want the same things for our families.

Steve Taylor
August 23, 2020 8:28 am

Thanks for the article. I have passed it to my civil engineering student son, for their ethics classes.

August 23, 2020 8:43 am

You have three things you can build a dam for. Flood control, Power or Water but it’s very difficult to have all three at the same time. Here in Phoenix, the one that gives is Flood control. We call the salt river the river that came to Phoenix and never left. What was once a free flowing river is now mostly a dry river bed however we don’t allow building in the river bottom unless people are aware anything could be washed away. In the past, farmers would farm this land because the floods made it rich. They were willing to lose a crop every so often for because the rest of the time the land would pay for its self. We still keep the channel open because we can expect it to flood between 5 and 20 years when the dam system fills to capacity. What is currently a dry river bottom will flood to a quarter of a mile across in places because the dams can release water that fast. It appears that China may still need to learn this lesson.

Reply to  Dena
August 23, 2020 10:59 am

One solution would be to build a ‘dry dam’ in which the dam’s total purpose is to remain empty, and only used in flood events to impound water when there is already flooding going on. Yes, it is expensive to build a dry dam and will probably only be used sporadically for what it was intended. But it would solve the problem of that 1-1000 chance that the watershed becomes so saturated and the rivers and dams overflowing and fail, that the dry dam could absorb some of the worst of the excess flood. Would be wise insurance, and wouldn’t need to be just one dam, or completely empty dry dams. There could be multiple smaller ‘dry dams’ that would be utilized at quarter or half capacity, but always have enough freeboard to absorb a lot of volume of water, therefore relieving down stream flows. With China’s history of flooding, this should be evident that they need a back up plan to their back up plan, which was the present dams storing surplus flows. But things are full up and there is more water on the way. Not a good situation for the river downstream for 400 million people.

Reply to  Earthling2
August 23, 2020 12:55 pm

The dam on the Feather river at Oroville inadvertently acted as a dry dam back in the winter of 1964/65. That was an Ark Storm winter. At the time the dam was nearing completion, but was almost completely empty. It was filled in that one winter of 1964/65 which was many years ahead of the scheduled plan for filling the dam. A stroke of luck for everyone downstream, and in Sacramento. Much of Northern California to Southern Canada endured disastrous flooding during that winter at great cost.

Reply to  goldminor
August 23, 2020 1:25 pm

Indeed…a stroke of good luck and good timing for good folks of Central California when the Oroville Dam and the Lake Oroville reservoir certainly saved the day when it was needed.

Over on the North Fork of the American River, the proposed Auburn Dam never did get built. It was even proposed to be a ‘dry dam’ in one of the proposals that was tried to get the dam approved. They even built a bridge about 700 feet above the proposed river that would have become a new reservoir. Plus it had a diversion tunnel built and the river redirected through the tunnel and coffer dam already built but I think 1/2 of that did get washed out in the big floods of Feb/1986 when the tunnel couldn’t keep up. Perhaps the Auburn Dam can be resurrected, in part to operate as a partial (50% filled) dry dam to absorb those 1% chance year floods that might strike any year when the atmospheric river is turned on. A lot of the prep work is already done. The value of that reservoir filled to 50% water captured annually would assist paying for this insurance policy. Leaving it 50% unfilled would allow a big slug of water to be impounded in an emergency flood situation, which is part of the DNA of California oscillating between droughts and floods.

“Auburn Dam was a proposed concrete arch dam on the North Fork of the American River east of the town of Auburn, California in the United States, on the border of Placer and El Dorado Counties. Slated to be completed in the 1970s by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, it would have been the tallest concrete dam in California and one of the tallest in the United States, at a height of 680 feet (210 m) and storing 2,300,000 acre feet (2.8 km3) of water. Straddling a gorge downstream of the confluence of the North and Middle Forks of the American River and upstream of Folsom Lake, it would have regulated water flow and provided flood control in the American River basin as part of Reclamation’s immense Central Valley Project.”,Placer%20and%20El%20Dorado%20Counties.

Reply to  Earthling2
August 23, 2020 1:23 pm

Prado Dam in Orange County California is just such a dam. It was finished in 1941 just to protect Anaheim from flooding. The reason it’s not done more often is a place that would work is much more valuable if it’s used to hold water all the time. To cut down on flooding in Phoenix, Roosevelt Dam had additional hight added to it for use in flooding conditions however it’s not intended for long term storage. When the working height for the dam is exceeded, it needed to be lowered to working height as soon as it’s possible to do so.

Reply to  Dena
August 23, 2020 2:11 pm

Very wise. The authorities in Toowoomba, Queensland decided to turn that big ugly dry creek in the middle of the town into a park and parking lots, apparently never considering how that creek had formed in the first place.

It didn’t turn out too well…

Reply to  tty
August 23, 2020 5:39 pm

It’s amazing how much force there is in a relatively shallow amount of water that is travelling 30 mph. Looked like a flash flood that descended on the parking lot rather quickly and probably didn’t amount to a huge water volume by the time the flow event ended. As little as one foot of water can move most cars off the road. Just six inches of fast-moving flood water can sweep a person off his or her feet. Most flood-related deaths occur at night and are vehicular.

Another thing that can be done is building retention ponds into that creek channel, rather than building dams. That would require removal of earth to create a storm pond, such as what cities now do regularly with storm drain retention ponds that are built into the city drainage system before exiting by underground storm water pipes so serves as a buffer to take the water inflow surge. Basically the water would have to fill up some deeper ponds that would be dug into the water drainage channel, and would temper the downstream flow in the case of a flash flood. If there was a purpose for removing the earth to do something useful with like building a highway or a dyke, and one could gain the water rights to commodify that water value, then I would start digging and every cubic m3 of dirt I removed would be worth future value in selling that m3 of water forever. Maybe wouldn’t be profitable in a desert environment, but many small rivers that regularly flood through high density population centres in flood plains could minimize temporary flood damage and be an insurance policy to a designed min/max flood event. At a minimum, would buy time to get everyone safely out of harms way.

August 23, 2020 8:47 am

Doesn’t anyone remember what happened in Michigan this year? Sounds like a similar scenario, just a whole lot bigger.

Tony Rome
August 23, 2020 9:03 am

In case you thought the Chinese were not hiding the condition of the Three Gorges Dam, zoom in on the dam in google earth. You will see that the “image” is actually 3D rendering of the dam (Not satellite imagery). They could have at least put in some texturing and shadows to attempt to fool us. I looked at a smaller dam downstream and could see the concrete work clearly. Also, no doubt that Google had to “cooperate” with the deception.

Nuclear power is the safest form of electric power generation. If we switch from Uranium based fuels to Thorium fuel, it would be far cleaner and far safer. But then it would be far more difficult to extract weapons grade biproducts to make nukes.

Reply to  Tony Rome
August 23, 2020 9:22 am

You have something set wrong in GE, I get a clear image dated 06/03/2020

Reply to  Yooper
August 23, 2020 4:14 pm

Yooper…. I got the the same 3D rendering, dated 6/3/20. Everything around it is satellite imagery. It’s obvious Google allowed the deception. What’s that tell you about Google?

August 23, 2020 9:05 am

China seems to have a history of catastrophes related to construction…. dams, buildings, bridges. Usually they are related to shortcuts or gambles taken to meet central planning goals like, shoddy materials, rushed construction, and faulty engineering. Protecting lives doesn’t seem to be high on their list.

Reply to  markl
August 23, 2020 1:01 pm

Just several weeks ago China’s newer tallest building in Shanghai suffered water leaks which cascaded down through 40 or 50 floors of the building. You have to wonder a bit about that. …

Reply to  goldminor
August 23, 2020 6:50 pm

I stayed at the Grand Hyatt Jinmao Tower across the street from the Shanghai Tower and there appeared to be something sinister about its looks, often surrounded with fog around the top. Anyway, the Grand Hyatt was at one time the tallest hotel in the world. The lobby is at something like the 50th floor to 88th floor and the atrium is open in Hyatt style from bottom to top.

They have a net above the bar area, which is assuring.

August 23, 2020 9:44 am

Chernobyl really led to the demise of the “Soviet Union”.

Yes, there may be massive death and destruction from this. BUT, if it results in the Chinese taking their approximately 500,000 “overlords” and giving them the “French Solution”. (Think, Red Queen, “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS”) so be it. I just hope they get to suffer a bit before they are sent before the “GREAT JUDGE”.

August 23, 2020 10:09 am

Recent inflow/outflow data and water levels behind Three Gorges:

Reply to  WBWilson
August 23, 2020 2:24 pm

Pretty decent assessment, until he commented on his HARP beliefs are the reason. No doubt he believes Trump ordered a HARP attack on China in retaliation for the Wuhan Virus pandemic.

It doesn't add up...
August 23, 2020 10:33 am

Think about the sea levels!

An unpleasant predicament for those downstream. I also keep my eye on the HidroItuango project in Colombia – an ongoing farce, with the entire board having recently resigned only to come back again, lawsuits flying, but the dam remaining incomplete.

Stephen Skinner
August 23, 2020 10:52 am

I really hope it doesn’t, but you can be sure that if the 3 Gorge Dam fails then it is the West that will be blamed because this will all be becuase of Global Warming. Get ready for Greta.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Stephen Skinner
August 23, 2020 2:02 pm

Doesn’t need to fail for the risk of failure to be used as a propaganda point

August 23, 2020 1:09 pm

There is this large typhoon sitting offshore of China. They better hoe that it doesn’t turn to the west, …,24.54,1713/loc=124.492,28.037

Reply to  goldminor
August 23, 2020 1:56 pm

At the moment it is forecast to move north just west of Cheju-do and along the west coast of South Korea, and then hit North Korea dead center. I wonder what shape their dams are in?

August 23, 2020 1:39 pm

“Between 30-50mm of rain is expected to fall per hour in the provinces of Yunnan, Gansu, Shaanxi, Hebei, Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang, rising to over 70mm an hour in some scattered areas.”

That is pretty remarkable. Gansu and Inner Mongolia are mostly desert and Shaanxi, Hebei and Heilongjiang are also rather dry.

This is a remarkably strong monsoon for a non-Niña year.

Reply to  tty
August 23, 2020 2:44 pm

Convectively-coupled equatorial waves, as equatorial Rossby waves coupling to eastward propagating MJO setup is strong in this NH summer. This latest is 3rd wave of a likely 4 wave train set about 30 days apart. The 4th wave train in September will be dissipating (weaker), with the current (3rd wave) now occurring being the strongest of the set.

August 23, 2020 2:16 pm

My father was assistant project manager on the Mica Dam circa 1970-74. Project manager on the Nipawin Hydroelectric Dam circa 1982-85.

I’ll tell you why the 3 Gorges Dam is failing; the geology of the area is COMPLETELY WRONG for hydroelectric construction.

How do I know this, you ask? I asked my father.

My father was tapped to run the construction of this monstrosity; but he turned it down.
He turned it down, because the Communist Party apparatchiks decided they knew more about hydro-electric dam construction than he did! The Communist Party apparatichiks decided the local area GEOLOGY report could be IGNORED!!!

The main problem with the 3 Gorges area is…

Reply to  clipe
August 25, 2020 7:16 pm

The man turned down the job because he did not agree with the dam site, which he considered problematical in terms of silt burden and also embankment failure. He did not consider the dam itself to be a risk.

The Chinese have been dealing with flooding for millennia and even have a proverb for dealing with floods, control the flow rather than try to stop it. So it seems reasonable that they expect the 3 Gorges dam to only help control the flow as well. That is not an indication of structural concern however, no matter what the more skeptical commentators claim.

August 23, 2020 3:02 pm

With 75,000 cubic metres per second of water flowing in from the Yangtze river on Thursday, the reservoir’s depths reached 165.6 metres by Friday morning, up more than 2 metres overnight and almost 20 metres higher than the official warning level.

The maximum designed depth of China’s largest reservoir is 175 metres.

August 23, 2020 3:47 pm



Mind, I’m a bit concerned about the UK Government – and other Western administrations, as well.
Also they appear – to me – to be hosing the landscape with huge amounts of money they don’t yet have.
They may get that cash.
It may be needed [Covid decisions are easy to criticise in hindsight] now.

And some of them are swigging the ACGW Kool-Aid as if someone else is paying . . . .

Oh – wait.
We taxpayers will be expected – required – to pay. Ahhh.

August 23, 2020 4:34 pm

Here’s a quote I have yet to understand:

“If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.”

John Endicott
Reply to  u.k.(us)
August 24, 2020 9:29 am

The quote speaks to patience and self-control. Rather than acting recklessly and rashly and thus possibly coming to a bad end yourself, your enemies will eventual come to their own ruin in good time and if you wait long enough you’ll get to see that happen.

August 23, 2020 10:04 pm

There were no similar circumstances in 1975 because there was no 3 Gorges Dam and any dam that there was, was caveman technology. The dam is not at maximum capacity. It is where it is every year and still has 10 meters to go.

August 24, 2020 7:48 am

China has a glass jaw.

Reply to  Olen
August 24, 2020 10:02 am

Olen say’s :

“China has a glass jaw”
That may be true in one sense, but it has an estimated inventory of 290 nuclear weapons, and modern means of delivering them, and somewhere between weak to non-existent controls on the people who could give orders to use them.

August 24, 2020 7:53 am

Back in 2001 Tropical Storm Allison hit Houston Texas and innundated much of the downtown with a once in 500 year flooding. There were up to 37 inches of rain dropped during the single event. Drainage was redone, the downtown upgraded but probably unnecessary. I mean, how often does a once in 500 year event happen, am I right?
Then of course in 2017 Hurricane Harvey dumped up to 60 inches of rain in a single location.

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