The petition warns that filling the reservoir as planned could have dire consequences for hundreds of thousands of people living in the Three Gorges area and for navigation along the Yangtze River.

About one-third of the signatories are former members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the official political advisory body to the state government.

The petition, written by Lu Qinkan, a leading hydrologist who worked on the dam’s original feasibility study, calls for a return to the original plan of delaying reservoir filling so that experts would have time to monitor sediment buildup and to determine if higher water levels are viable. This would also provide some relief for resettlement authorities, the petitioners argue, who are faced with the task of resettling up to 1.8 million people out of the Three Gorges region.

Maintaining the Three Gorges reservoir at 156m would reduce the number of

people who have to be moved by an estimated 520,000. The original plan, approved by the National People’s Congress in 1992, aimed to keep water levels behind the Three Gorges dam at 156m for the first 10 years of operation.

During this time, experts could evaluate the impact of sedimentation on navigation and ports at the reservoir’s uppermost end. If feasible, the water level would then be raised to a final operating level of 175m between the dam’s 17th and 20th year of operation.

In 1997, dam officials changed the plans to maximise the dam’s power output. The water level is currently scheduled to rise to 175m in the sixth year of operation.

The petition listing the experts’ concerns comes at the same time as yet another corruption scandal engulfs the dam. The Hong Kong South China Morning

Post revealed on 3 May that the head official at the Three Gorges Economic

Development Corporation (TGEDC) has embezzled at least one billion RMB, about

$125 million.

This news comes on the heels of a government audit that revealed resettlement officials embezzled about $57.7 million – equivalent to 12% of the total $488 million resettlement budget. Embezzled money was used to speculate on stocks, real estate and was also transferred to personal accounts.

Earlier this year, the China Business Times reported that Yuan Guolin, who until January 2000 was the deputy general manager of the China Three Gorges Project Corporation, the company responsible for construction and administration of the

dam, said the corporation would not be floated on the stock market because of its economic and technical problems. Yuan also said that a review was needed on whether the project could sell its output after it began generation in 2003.

International environmental and human rights groups have targeted global investment banks including Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Salomon Smith Barney of Citigroup, Credit Suisse First Boston and Merrill Lynch for their participation in underwriting China Development Bank Bonds in January 1997 and May 1999. China Development Bank lists the Three Gorges Dam as its top loan commitment.

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