Water authorities on the Yangtze River have ratified the construction of a small dam that might kill a large number of fish species, a retired environmental protection official says.
Weng Lida, former director of the Yangtze River Water Resource Protection Bureau in Wuhan, Hubei, told the China Youth Daily that the Yangtze River Water Resources Commission had put Chongqing's Xiaonanhai Dam project on the construction agenda.
Weng said the commission had submitted the list to several central government ministries. If they approve it, the project will become virtually impossible to stop.
The dam would block the reproduction route of more than 150 fish species, according to a 2006 study by the commission. About half of the species are rare.
The dam will be located in Jiangjin district, 30 kilometres from downtown Chongqing and 700 kilometres upstream from the Three Gorges Dam. The National Yangtze Rare Fish Reserve Zone, the only fish reserve on the mainland, is also in the district.
Fish in the reserve lay more than 15 billion eggs a year, a Ministry of Agriculture report completed this year states. These eggs would need to travel downstream on the reserve's 500 kilometre waterway to allow them to hatch. The dam would not only block the journey, its power generation turbines would also squash the eggs, the report said.
The Chongqing government proposed the project in 1991. Construction started in 1997, but after less than a year the project was halted. The official reason was a shortage of funding. Some critics said that strong opposition from environmentalists was also possible.
Even so, many residents in the region supported the project. Zhang Yumei, a Jiangjin district resident, said Chongqing was choked by burning coal and the dam could help clean the air.
The district's internet discussion forums were also full of mainly supportive responses on the topic.
Whether the project will receive approval from the central government remains uncertain. Wan Bentai, chief engineer of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said in June that the dam would certainly have an impact on fish stocks.
Some mainland environmental NGOs were lobbying the ministry to block the project, a report in the China Economic Times said. Organisations such as the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs and the Green Reporter Salon submitted a joint letter to the ministry.
Professor Zhang Boting, deputy secretary general of the China Society for Hydropower Engineering, criticised the environmentalists. 'The dam will certainly affect the fish, but the environmentalists have exaggerated the impact,' he said.