Trash threatens to jam China's Three Gorges dam

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The Independent Online

Layers of trash floating in the Yangtze river are threatening to jam China's massive Three Gorges hydroelectric dam, state media reported Monday.

The garbage is so thick in parts of the river that people can walk on the surface, reports said.

Nearly three tonnes of refuse are collected from the dam every day, but operators are struggling with inadequate manpower and equipment as trash accumulates more quickly due to rain-triggered floods, the China Daily reported.

"The large amount of waste in the dam area could jam the mitre gate (a type of lock gate) of the Three Gorges Dam," Chen Lei, an official with the China Three Gorges Corporation, told the newspaper.

More than 150 million people live upstream from the dam. In several nearby cities, household garbage is dumped directly into the river - China's longest - because municipalities are unequipped for trash disposal.

Chen said 160,000 cubic metres (5.7 million cubic feet) of trash was collected from the dam last year.

The China Three Gorges Corporation spends about 10 million yuan (1.5 million dollars) per year to clear floating waste, the newspaper said.

In some regions, the layers of garbage are so thick that people can literally walk on the water's surface, the Hubei Daily reported.

A 60-centimetre (two-foot) thick layer of garbage covering an area of more than 50,000 square metres (12 acres) began to form in front of the dam when the rainy season started in early July, according to the Hubei Daily.

China considers the 22-billion-dollar Three Gorges Dam a modern wonder. Since its completion in 2008, it has pumped out much-needed hydroelectricity, increased shipping on the Yangtze and helped reduce flooding.

But critics charge the world's largest dam has caused ecological damage and increased landslides in the area. About 1.4 million people were displaced by the dam, whose construction put several heritage sites deep underwater.