73% of China's 98,000 Dams Are in Critical Condition
Simone Gao: Hello everyone, welcome to Zooming In China. I am Simone Gao. China's Henan Province has recently experienced a rare extreme rainstorm, which has caused 302 deaths and 50 people are still missing, according to the official report.
Zhengzhou, Henan’s capital, was the city that was hit the hardest by the flood. Zhengzhou Mayor Hou Hong said at the press conference on August 2 that 292 people were killed and 47 people were missing in the city. Among them, 39 people drowned in underground spaces such as basements, garages, and underground pipe networks, including 14 people in Metro Line 5, 6 people in Jingguang Road Tunnel.
As we often have doubts on numbers coming out of China, we again have to ask the question: Is this death toll credible? The following video may give us some clues.
This chaotic scene is from the Longhai Road exit of the Jingguang North Road Tunnel in Zhengzhou. The time is early morning of July 23. Many or most of these people are the family members of the people who disappeared in the tunnel two days ago when the flood submerged the tunnel entirely. They waited anxiously for news of their loved ones at the tunnel entrance. However, the crowd was forcefully expelled by the police. The angry and anxious people clashed with the police. Judging from the footage, at least a few hundred people gathered there. However, the Henan Provincial Government declared that only 6 people were killed in all three tunnels on Jingguang Road.
Six people were killed, but hundreds of family members clashed with the police. Is this logical?
We may not know how many people actually died in Henan for a long time. In the last episode, we mentioned that the streets of Zhengzhou were submerged by floods, not because of heavy rain, but because of the irresponsible and unwarned flood discharge from the reservoirs near Zhengzhou.
So, in the entire China, how many such irresponsible reservoirs and dams are there? Here is the second part of my interview with Mr. Wang Weiluo, a water conservancy expert currently living in Germany.
Simone Gao: A few years ago, when I interviewed you about the Three Gorges Dam, you told me China has built a lot of reservoirs and dams, and that is a big cause of flooding all over the country. Can you tell me more about it?
Wang Weiluo: Let me just say one thing. We are talking about the Henan flooding this time. But there was another big flood that happened in August 1975 that your program also mentioned. During that flood, 62 reservoirs at the Banqiao Station collapsed. At that time the government did a survey about how many reservoirs in China were unsafe. It was like 25 percent or 30 percent of them were unsafe. Ten years later, They did another survey, the number rose up to 40 percent. During that period, because the number was so high, the central government got worried, "Wow! Too dangerous. We need to hurry up and repair the reservoirs. Then ten years later, study shows the ratio of the unsafe reservoirs went up yet again. You know that now, there are 98,000 reservoirs in China. What is the ratio of sick and dangerous reservoirs among them? Seventy-three percent of the reservoirs are unsafe. The Changzhuang Reservoir has been repaired twice in a row, reinforced twice. It is still a dangerous reservoir. Of course, there are many reasons for the Chang Zhuang reservoir to become a dangerous reservoir.
First, it was built in the era of the Great Leap Forward, and second, it is already old, it was built in 1959 to 1961, and now it is more than 60 years old. People would say that the general lifespan of a reservoir is 50 years, so it has entered into old age, it is the same as the Chinese society becoming an elderly society, it starts to have a lot of problems. It needs to be repaired often. However, whenever the government talked about the Three Gorges Dam, they said it wouldn’t collapse in 10,000 years. But for other reservoirs they said they were getting old, their lifespan is only 50 years. So It is totally up to the government how it wants to depict things.
Simone: Yes, let’s talk about the reservoir problem a little bit more. I remember when I spoke with you a few years ago. Speaking of the Three Gorges Dam and the Aswan Dam in Egypt, you made a comparison. You told me at the time that the storage capacity of the Aswan reservoir...
Wang Weiluo: The storage capacity is 1.86 times the runoff of the river.
Simone Gao: Yes, the storage capacity of the Three Gorges Dam, on the other hand, is only 8-9% of the Yangtze River’s runoff. What I want to ask is if the various large and small reservoirs built all over the country all have the problems similar to the Three Gorges Dam, that is, the storage capacity of these reservoirs are generally too small, is this one of the main reasons why there have been so many floods in China?
Wang Weiluo: This is one reason. The storage capacity of the Chinese reservoirs is generally small. But some are relatively large. For example, the ratio between storage capacity and runoff of the Xin’anjiang Reservoir is larger than 1, as is the Danjiangkou Reservoir . However, this is not always the case.
There is a Sanmenxia Reservoir next to Zhengzhou. The Sanmenxia Reservoir was originally designed by the Soviet Union experts who gave the reservoir a storage capacity of 60 billion cubic meters which was chopped down by then Prime Minister Zhou Enlai to 9 billion cubic meters. After a year and a half of operation, the reservoir was half way filled. People started to say that this reservoir was no good, it was too small. More than 4 billion cubic meters have been filled, accounting for half of the 9 billion cubic meter capacity. But based on the design by the Soviet experts, it would only fill less than 10% of the reservoir.
These reservoirs in China, if they have a small storage capacity, their ability to regulate flood is very limited, so its so-called flood control function does not exist. There is one more thing everyone should be aware of, that is, if your purpose is to generate electricity, like the Three Gorges dam; or if your purpose is to sell water to water factories, like the Chang Zhuang Reservoir, you will not discharge floods easily.
Simone Gao: Because they want to make money with the water, so they won’t discharge it easily.
Wang Weiluo: In other words, the purposes of the reservoirs can not contradict with each other. You can't say that I can do this but I can also do that, right? It sounds good, but in fact you can only do one thing.
For example, as we said, Zhengzhou treats the Jialu River as a beautiful river that boosts the real estate value. Then the city can’t expect the river to contain the flood as well. It can’t let the river drain water because if you do, you will have to lower the water level, you will see a dry river that doesn’t look appealing. It is not good for real estate. So the city raises the water level to make it look beautiful.
Henan province has a new Party secretary who came from Zhejiang province. He is very good at making rivers look good for real estate. Before, he initiated a green mountain green water project which also flooded an entire city.
Simone Gao: Is it in Zhejiang?
Wang Weiluo:Yes, in Zhejiang. He was originally from Zhejiang.
Simone Gao: You just said that the storage capacity of China's reservoirs is generally small. Why did they do so? What could they lose if they make the capacity larger when they build the reservoir?
Wang Weiluo: Most of the reservoirs in foreign countries are built in sparsely populated places. If you look at the reservoirs in the United States, most of them are built in places with few people. Most of the reservoirs in China are built in places with a lot of people. So if you raise the water level by one meter, you will increase the immigration needs by a lot.
Simone Gao: I see, people can’t live around the reservoir…
Wang Weiluo: The reservoir could flood a lot of land. That’s why Mr. Huang Wanli said when China builds a reservoir or a water conservancy project, it would seek a balance between land resources and water resources. They try to find a balance. Mr. Huang Wanli believes that China’s Land resources are more scarce than water resources. So it is uneconomical if you flood a lot of land with reservoir water. So in the end, It is a kind of exchange. For example, the reservoir can generate electricity, but it reduces the river’s self-purification ability. You have to build sewage treatment plants.
Simone Gao: What is self-purification ability?
Wang Weiluo: The self-purification ability means that when the river is running, it will cause the pollutants in the river to be purified. It is just like a person’s kidney, it has the ability to purify the human body, it can expel wastes out of the body.
Simone Gao: OK
Wang Weiluo: The self-purification ability of a river is the same as that of a human kidney. China’s current water conservancy policy is like a child in China. After he sold a kidney, he came back to buy an IPHONE and IPAD.
Simone Gao: Yes, this is an awesome analogy. Next, I know that Germany has also experienced floods recently. You are in Germany. Can you compare the situation in Germany and that in China? How did the government respond? What was the reaction of the people?
Wang Weiluo: Well, chief editor of the Global Times Hu Xijin has already severely criticized German government’s handling of the flood. He said, this marks the end of the western democratic myth.
One of the biggest lessons learned from the flood in Germany this time is negligence. It is negligence. Since I came to Germany, I experienced two major floods. One was the 1999 Rhine flood, another seemed to be the 2003 Rhine flood. During that time, Cologne was also flooded. Then, people reflected on what they did wrong.
The experience of Germany’s river governance has always been imitated by the Chinese engineers. For example, the measure to cut and straighten the river, to cement the river bank and channel the water. These have been imitated by Chinese Water conservancy engineers as good models. But after the floods in 1999 and 2003, Germany began to reflect on what they did wrong. They felt that after we cut and straightened the river, it was better for navigation because the route was shorter, but it was not good for floods. It would increase the intensity and damage of the flood. Also after we channelized the entire river, we damaged the ecosystem of the river.
So Germany proposed at that time to re-naturalize the river, to knock off the cement on both sides of the river and put back the pebbles. As a result, the river bank expanded to the fields.
Now you look at China’s rivers, Zhengzhou’s rivers. Can they still be called rivers? A river has to have its components. It should have a riverbed, and a floodplain. There should be a wide floodplain. When there is a lot of water, the floodplain is submerged by water, when there is no water, the floodplain will be covered by grass. This is how the river adapts to wet and dry weather. Look at the river in Zhengzhou, it does not have a floodplain, it Can't adapt to this change in nature.
Simone Gao: If it doesn't have a floodplain, What does the floodplain become?
Wang Weiluo: The floodplain is now houses. It used to be a floodplain, now it is developed, it becomes houses. There is a song in China called a big river. The lyrics goes “there is a big river whose waves are wide.” Width is the most important thing. The lyrics for the first part have no problem. It goes like "as the wind blows, you can smell the fragrance of the rice crops on the river banks where my house stands.” it is all good so far, then suddenly it goes: "in order to create a new heaven and earth, we wake up the sleeping mountains and make the river change its appearance."
Why change the river’s appearance? That’s not good. Wasn't the river beautiful before you changed it? Why did you make it change its appearance? That's Mao Zedong's and the CCP's mentality. They want to transform and conquer nature. That’s the key.
What about Germany? After the two major floods in 1999 and 2003, until 2021, Germany did not have any major floods, so people became more relaxed and don't think about these things. In retrospect, 8 years ago, we told the government that you should be vigilant and pay attention to the flood prevention measure. In addition to the hard measures, you should also have soft measures. But why didn’t they listen? Because people are always forgetful, and when there is a disaster, they want to do this and that. Afterwards, they don’t think about it anymore. This time it was mainly because the rainstorm came very suddenly. We all received text message alerts about the rainstorm, but they could not predict where the rainstorm will be, and where the rainstorm center will be. So they can only say that there is a rainstorm coming, and everyone should be careful.
Simone Gao: Some of my viewers described their understanding of Chinese reservoirs as money printing machines, and others called them diamond dams, meaning they can make a lot of money out of it.
Wang Weiluo: Just think about it. We are talking about those corrupt Chinese Communist Party officials. Recently, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection made a video about four high-ranking officials. Among them Lai Xiaomin embezzled more than 10 billion RMB, that’s $1.6 billion.
How could he embezzle so much money? I'm always thinking about this question. He can’t get it from the government's administrative expenditure. It is impossible. You can only get it from those big government projects. For example, Zhengzhou is building a sponge system as their flood control system that cost 50 billion yuan.
The result is very poor. Not much has been done at all. It is an empty concept. What if someone takes 30% from the project funds. 30% of the 50 billion is more than 10 billion. Then everyone will get a big share. Based on my previous knowledge, getting 30% from a project is not that hard. That's normal. That’s normal.
Also the Three Gorges Dam costs over 200 Billion RMB. Most of this money has been provided by people who paid for electricity generated by the dam. Till now, the Three Gorges Dam hasn’t paid back the construction loans despite making tons of money from electricity.
I have seen an essay written by several scientists from China. The essay is titled “Who gains and who loses?” It says for building the reservoir on the Lancang river, the national power company invested 1 yuan to earn 3.9 yuan.
Karl Marx quote someone in his Capital that a capitalist will go crazy If there is a 10% profit. He will be willing to kill and rob people for the 10% profit. However, the Lancangjiang Reservoir will return 3.9 Yuan if invested 1 Yuan. Think about it.
Simone Gao: Profiteering
Wang Weiluo: That’s right! That’s higher than what Marx said in Capital, so his profit is very high. Now I’m telling everyone that the western route of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project incurred an investment of 2 trillion yuan. Don’t get dizzy after you hear it. This is the trend. Investments in these projects are getting larger and larger. For example, all the money for repairing critically ill reservoirs is not just tens of billions every year, but hundreds of billions are invested!
Simone Gao: Right. China has built 98,000 reservoirs. Would you say the biggest motivation for building these many reservoirs is to make money. Would you say that?
Wang Weiluo: Of course. If there is no profit, nobody will do it. The main motivation is to make profit. Otherwise, why don’t they do it?
Simone Gao: Yes, so he built so many reservoirs, the main reason is not to contain floods or fight droughts. The main reason is to make money, right?
Wang Weiluo: Maybe in Mao Zedong’s era, making money was not the main goal. His main goal was to produce more food or to conquer nature. His ideology was to fight nature and conquer it. He believes humans can conquer nature. This is a manifestation of his belief.
Someone said, Dujiangyan Reservoir represents China’s ancient idea of the unity between nature and man. The Three Gorges Dam, on the other hand, represents the mentality of man’s conquest of nature. For politicians, Sometimes ideology is more important than making money.
Simone Gao: Okay, thank you Mr. Wang
Wang Weiluo: Thank you
Simone Gao: This concludes our program for today. Please like, share and subscribe to our channel if you like our production. Also, please sign up for my membership website. We will provide video, audio and transcripts of our shows. There will also be member-only articles and in-depth reports and live Q&A with me. The website is zoomingin.tv. $5 a month or $50 a year. You can also donate to me on the website. Thanks for watching. I’m Simone Gao, and I’ll see you next time.