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China begins building pivotal dam to manage chaotic, vulnerable Yellow River



China begins building pivotal dam to manage chaotic, vulnerable Yellow River

After decades of planning, construction has begun on a massive new dam on China’s Yellow River in the latest water management project aimed at controlling increasing sediment in the world’s muddiest river.

The Guxian Water Conservancy Project, which is located midstream on the river between the central provinces of Shaanxi and Shanxi, officially began construction on Tuesday, the Ministry of Water Resources said.

Once completed, the project will control 65 per cent of the Yellow River basin area, 73 per cent of its water flow and 60 per cent of its sediment volume, according to the ministry.

Once completed the Guxian dam is expected to manage 65 per cent of the Yellow River basin area, according to the Ministry of Water Resources. Photo: Weibo
Originating in China’s northwest Qinghai province, the Yellow River – the country’s second-longest waterway – runs through the Loess Plateau, an area about the size of France, that has become an immense source of silt due to desertification.
The sixth-longest river system in the world, the Yellow River has become known as “a hanging river” because the excessive accumulations of sediment have raised parts of the riverbed above the surrounding terrain, changing the course of the water over time and leading to frequent, devastating floods.

“The Guxian project is a strategically important component of the Yellow River’s sediment control system and a key node of the national water network, crucial to the long-lasting security of the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River,” Water Resources Minister Li Guoying said at a ceremony on Tuesday.

The project, which is expected to take 10 years to complete, will be the third-largest dam on the Yellow River, state media reported. The project was projected to cost 53 billion yuan (US$7.3 billion), according to a 2021 report from the ministry.

The dam is also expected to ease the burden on the Xiaolangdi reservoir, located 450km (280 miles) downstream, which went into service in 2001 to help manage water flows.

The Guxian dam project has been seven decades in the works, and will be a major part of the strategy to control sediment build-up on the Yellow River, the water resources ministry said. Photo: Weibo

“After years of operation and research, it is necessary to build another large water conservancy project upstream from Xiaolangdi to further control the water and reduce sediment of the Yellow River,” Jia Xinping, an inspector with the ministry, told state broadcaster CCTV.

The dam, which is also expected to help boost irrigation along the river and provide hydroelectricity, has been listed as a major project in China’s mega infrastructure construction plans, and was included in the 14th five-year development plan which runs from 2021 to 2025.

The Guxian Water Conservancy Project is expected to take 10 years to complete. Photo: Weibo

Engineers began conducting geological surveys on the Yellow River in the 1950s to determine sites for dams and reservoirs. The ministry said planning for the project was especially complex due to the region’s geology, which consists of pockets of mud and fault zones sandwiched between multiple layers of soft and hard rocks.

The Guxian project was confirmed in a management and development plan in 1997 and its feasibility study report received national approval in June.

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