Ban on Nu River Dams Washed Away

China’s State Council has announced plans to resume hydropower development on the Nu (Salween), Lancang (Mekong) and Jinsha (a tributary of the Yangtze) rivers. Outgoing premier Wen Jiabao had repeatedly intervened to block damming of the Nu, and the plans have therefore been seen as a sign of his waning influence. From Li Jing at the South China Morning Post:

“This is really shocking,” said Li Bo, a director at Friends of Nature, a leading environmental group. “There were signs during the past year that mega dams were staging a comeback after being put on hold for years, but I’m still shocked by the lack of transparency in the decision-making process behind this.

“If implemented, these projects could destroy the baseline for ecological security, which completely goes against a promise highlighted by the new leadership to preserve a beautiful homeland for our future generations.”

[…] Under mainland law, however, each of the projects is still subject to environmental impact reviews before construction starts.In 2005, Premier Wen, a geologist by training, shelved plans to build 13 dams on the Unesco-protected Nu River, one of the country’s last free-flowing rivers. Wen told authorities to “widely heed opinions, expound on [the plan] thoroughly and make prudent decisions”. At least four of the dams have been revived in the new plan.

Though both Li and International Rivers’ Peter Bosshard described the news as “shocking”, there were signs that Wen’s protection might be slipping in February 2011, when state media reported that damming would resume.

One major concern over the new dams is the south-west’s high level of seismic activity. Reservoirs can increase the risk of earthquakes and landslides: a Probe International study released in December found that the 2008 Sichuan earthquake which killed some 80,000 people was likely caused by the weight of water behind the Zipingpu dam.

For more details on the Nu, Lancang and Jinsha see International Rivers, as well as Anchalee Kongrut’s overview of damming along the Lancang/Mekong at Economic Observer.