Since 2008, The Nature Conservancy has been working with the China Three Gorges Project Corporation (CTGPC), various Chinese government agencies and other organizations, to develop sustainable alternatives to the siting, design and operation of dams planned for the Yangtze and its tributaries and to influence policy to integrate development of the river’s hydropower potential, with strong and flexible flood risk management and with conservation of its most critical reaches and ecosystems. A series of feasibility studies investigates the following key strategies:

  • Identification and protection of priority freshwater habitats throughout the basin, including commitments not to build dams or other infrastructure that affect those places;
  • Recommendation of environmentally compatible flow patterns in the river downstream from dams that are built;
  • Integration of flood risk management into flood plains and optimization of reservoir operations for hydropower;
  • Creation of a special dedicated fund from extra hydropower revenue produced by transferring flood storage functions out of the reservoirs and into the flood plain (the fund would pay for flood risk management and ecosystem conservation); and
  • Monitoring the health of the river using modern ecosystem monitoring and adaptive management approaches.

These studies involve the four new dams being built by CTGPC in the lower Jinsha Jiang, the mainstem tributary of the Yangtze, up-river from the current Three Gorges Dam and Reservoir. This cascade of dams as designed will have a combined capacity of 42 GW, twice the capacity of Three Gorges Dam. Under the proposal this can be up-sized to 50 GW or more.

The ultimate recommendation of the proposal is to shift from flood control operations in the reservoirs to flood risk management in the flood plain and to dedicate the extra revenue generated to create a "Hydropower Sustainability Fund." Removing flood control operations from the four reservoirs will produce extra revenue of about $667 million/year. That revenue would be split 80% to the Sustainability Fund and 20% back to CTGPC. The revenue stream would be used to fund bonds in order to provide initial capitalization and allow enhanced flood risk management and conservation investments to be accelerated several years ahead of completion of the dams. Resources from the fund would be used to provide:

  • capital investment in engineering works and infrastructure of about $1 billion,
  • flood insurance and catastrophe bond risk coverage of about $1.5 billion,
  • annual O&M costs of flood management infrastructure of about $70 million/year,
  • initial investments in a system of Freshwater Conservation Management Areas of about $200 million, and
  • annual maintenance, monitoring and in-lieu royalty costs of conservation management of about $20 million/year.

The proposal concludes that such an approach is feasible and offers a significant improvement in the sustainability of hydropower, flood risk management and conservation in the basin.

For additional information, read about the Yangtze case study in: