Thursday, May 11, 2006

China ponders price of progress at spectacular gorge

Wed May 10, 2006 8:12am ET14

By Alan Wheatley

TIGER LEAPING GORGE, China (Reuters) - Legend has it that a tiger vaulted the mighty Yangtze here at its narrowest point. Before long, anybody or beast might be able to saunter across the river atop a towering dam wall.

Residents and environmentalists fear that China's hunger for hydropower to feed its booming economy could spell the end of one of the world's deepest river gorges and scar some of the country's most spectacular scenery.

Ma Jun, an environmental consultant in Beijing, says the beauty of the 12,800-foot-deep gorge, nestled in the mountains of southwestern Yunnan province, is unique.

"There's a sense of nature you won't see in many other places in China. To many who feel that we've lost too much nature and need to preserve some for this country, this is a very big issue," Ma, author of the influential book "China's Water Crisis," said.

Dam builders have their eye on Tiger Leaping Gorge not only for the power it would generate but because it would help prevent silt from flowing into the reservoir behind the huge Three Gorges Dam, now near completion, some 930 miles downriver.

The decision whether to go ahead has yet to be taken.

But surveying work has been going on now for 18 months, fanning talk that construction of the proposed 912-foot-high dam could begin as early as 2008.


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