PROJECT | Cesar Tordesillas, China

China pursues new dams across Brahmaputra to address drought

Hydropower groups in China are lobbying the government to give the green light for suspended plans to build dams in the untapped upper reaches of the Brahmaputra.

This is due to the shrinking water levels in the Yangtze river basin in the wake of the worst drought to hit the country in five decades straining water and energy resources across ten provinces in southern and central China.

"The power shortage means we have to build more hydroelectric dams," Zhang Boting, deputy secretary-general of the Chinese Society of Hydropower Engineers, told The Hindu in an interview.

Mr. Zhang said China's hydropower development had, so far, focused on the Yangtze river — across which the Three Gorges Dam was built — and the Yellow river, in part due to concern voiced by countries downstream
of China's western rivers.

But with rising power shortages, coupled with increasing international pressure on China to reduce its carbon emissions, the country could no longer afford to leave the Brahmaputra's potential untapped, he said.

"Now, because we are facing pressure to save energy, we have to consider how we can build these dams, and find a way to cooperate with countries in the lower reaches," he said.

Power shortages have been particularly evident this year as a result of the drought across the Yangtze river delta. The State Grid, China's national electricity distribution company, has estimated this summer's
electricity deficit at 40 Gigawatts, the highest since 2004.

China's hydropower companies say one single dam on the Brahmaputra — at its "Great Bend", where it begins its journey towards India — could bridge that gap. Sinohydro, a state-owned hydropower company, has
detailed on its website a proposal for a 38-gigawatt plant at Motuo.

Mr. Zhang said the dam on the great bend could save up to 100 million tonnes of coal. But considering the difficult terrain, and the more than 1,000-metre fall of the river, he said the project would pose
technological barriers.

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