For the first time ever, China’s Environmental Protection Ministry has halted the construction of a major hydropower dam on the Jinsha River.
On March 30, the Ministry issued an order to stop the Xiaonahai Dam project. The reason? It failed the Ministry’s environmental impact assessment. The document itself has not been made public, but The New York Times reports that sections have been publicized on environmentalist microblogs.
This sets an important precedent for environmental protection, Zhang Boju, an advocate for Friends of Nature, told NYT. “If the Xiaonanhai Dam was built,” said Zhang, “the entire protection zone would be destroyed, and the protection-zone system would be rendered meaningless.” By stopping the dam’s construction, the Ministry has shown itself to have real teeth.
After decades of planning and proposals, construction on the Xiaonahai officially began in 2012. However, little more than the foundation has been completed due to environmental protests. If the dam were completed, they argued, it would destroy a protected area of the Jinsha reserved for rare and endangered fish.
Though a major source of clean energy, hydroelectric dams – and dams in general – have come under fire from environmental groups for the wide range of negative impacts they leave on local ecosystems. Once a major proponent of these engineering marvels, the U.S. is gradually deconstructing its tens of thousands of dams in favor of cleaner and less disruptive sources of power. Dams still remain popular in the developing world, though the threats they pose to indigenous people and wildlife cannot be understated.
In addition to halting construction of the Xiaonanhai Dam, China’s Environmental Ministry has also discontinued the Zhuyangxi and Shi-pengshui dam projects.
Ma Jun, an expert at the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, told the Business Standard that he’s glad to see the ministry exercising its authority “and holding to it.” Ma added that he believed these dam projects will be terminated and called it “positive news for the environmental protection field.”