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Changing water level causing havoc near Three Gorges dam

THE changing water level in the Three Gorges reservoir has triggered 166 geological hazards and forced 28,600 people to relocate in Chongqing Municipality since last September, local officials said.

Since the water levels behind the dam rose from 145 meters to 172.3 meters on September 28, these geological disasters, including landslides and mud-flows, have caused 539 million yuan (US$79 million) in economic loss, Chongqing government spokesman Wen Tianping told a press conference on Thursday. No casualties were reported.

Residents whose houses were likely to suffer damage had moved to new homes in safer locations, he said. Some are living with relatives.

The main aim of the US$22.5-billion project on the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze River is to control floods. The dam is usually opened before the flooding season, which starts in June, so the reservoir can hold back 19.3 billion cubic meters of water.

By the end of the flooding season, the water level is expected to rise to 175m, which will help generate power and improve navigation upstream.

The changing water level can lead to geological disasters, Wen said, adding it will need at least three years for the reservoir bank to stabilize.

A spokesman for the Three Gorges Project Construction Office, which administers the project for the State Council, or Cabinet, did not comment on the statistics from Chongqing. "The Ministry of Land and Resources has the authority to make conclusions on the geological situation of the Three Gorges reservoir," he said.

Li Lierong, who's in charge of the mitigation of Three Gorges geological disasters, told Xinhua yesterday the reservoir's banks were stable. "According to our observation, the water storage did not cause serious geological disasters," said Li, who led a team which surveyed more than 1,000 kilometers of embankment during the water storage. "But we should continue to treat the unstable sites, as the natural and geological conditions in the reservoir area are complicated."

Wen said the Chongqing government, experts and villagers are closely monitoring the geological condition in 2,516 sites where disasters might occur before the floods.


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