Sunday, March 22, 1992

Huge dam will tame `River of Sorrows'

By Uli Schmetzer


For seven decades, Liao You Cheng has watched the Yangtze River below his mud
brick home rise and fall with the seasons. He has seen friends swept away by floods
and cargo vessels stranded in droughts.

Three times Liao, 74, took the costly tiles off his roof and the furniture out of the
rooms and stacked them for safety on the nearest mountainside. The last time was in
1987, when he stood almost waist-deep in water.

The sprightly old-timer remembers the 1954 deluge when 33,000 people drowned. A
similar disaster 10 years ago killed 30,000 and left 18 million homeless. In last year's
floods, 3,000 died and 3.2 million lost their homes.

But the Yangtze is as much part of the old man as his home perched on the lip of the
steep river bank. In younger days he was one of a team of 30 bare-chested men who
hauled cargo and passenger boats upriver by a rope. He was serf to the river
landlords, and after the Communist takeover, by a cynical twist of fate, he was
placed in charge of the landlords' re-education-through-labor program.

Now Liao is one of the 1.1 million people who must be relocated to create a
375-mile-long lake-reservoir behind the planned Three Gorges Dam, the world's
largest hydroelectric project. The dam will cost $11 billion and generate 17.6 million
kilowatts of power, nearly twice the energy produced by the Grand Coulee Dam on
the Columbia River in Washington state.

The plan for Three Gorges Dam includes a network of waterworks unparalleled since
the Grand Canal was completed in the 13th Century. The aim is not only to curb
floods on the Yangtze and the mud-clogged Yellow River but also to convey water
from China's traditionally wet South to the ever-parched North.

Liao knows that the 575-foothigh wall across the third of three gorges along a
mountainous stretch between Badong and Yichang will change the face of a
countryside inhabited by 380 mil¬lion people. But he can hardly wait to see "The
River of Sorrows" tamed so he can receive the orange grove and new brick house
the government has promised as compensation for his home.

His village of 170 will lose its small plastics and fertilizer plant, but local authorities
have promised that the ancient Buddhist temple and the graves of the hon¬orable
ancestors will remain above water on a nearby hilltop.

"Initially some refused to budge. But now everyone has agreed 3:0 move. We have
accepted the project is good for the country," said Li Nasheng, Qianfu's political

This month China's rubber,¬stamp National People's Congress was told to give the
green light Three Gorges, ending a controv sy that started in imperial days, mained a
point of conflict duri Sun Yat Sen's Republic and dive ed the Communist Party.
Some party bosses argued tl the cost and environmental da age would be
compensated for flood control, improved riv r transport and cheap, abundant h
droelectric energy. Others conte a gigantic dam in one of tHtie world's most
congested regions His an invitation to catastrophe.

But most people think Three Gorges will go ahead because it is the most effective
way to control floods and it guarantees tat 10,000-ton cargo vessels can reach
Chongqing, a sprawling metropolis 90 miles east of Qianfu Vill e.' Now only 3,000-ton
vessels moor on floating wharves.
"If they don't go ahead with project it will cause trouble," said project chief Luo Jiaqi.
"The entire economic development along the river is already tuned to the project."
Officials have gone door-to-door to placate fears of a possible dam break. They also
promised to transfer, brick by brick and artifact by artifact, some of the hillside and
valley temples that are in the way.

Among those temples is that of the poet Qu Yuan. It already has been moved once-in
1981 to escape the reservoir of the Guatzubai Hydroelectric Dam, the fore¬runner
of Three Gorges.

What cannot be transplanted are the irrigation systems built by generations of
peasants that transformed the rolling Sichuan hills into a concertina of terraced
lakes. Those monuments to man's ingenuity will disappear.

But Liao does not worry about such a future. "The tangtze will always be the
Yangtze. It will rise and fall, dam or no dam," he predicts. He complains the river fish
are not as plentiful but they taste the same as 70 years ago, and the only problem is
"the awful stink from [nearby] fertilizer and cement factories."

Liao will have a few more years to sit by the river. The first power station is
scheduled to open within seven years, and Three Gorges is to be fully operative in
15 years. Liao's transfer to the orange grove and his new government home is set for