By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

LHASA, Tibet – The Chinese government has announced that it has completed a major hydropower dam project on the Brahmaputra River, called Yarlung Zangbo River, in Tibet. The Dam, now Tibet’s largest hydropower station, became partly operational last Sunday. The Chinese government described the $1.5 billion project as a “huge project, which straddles the middle reaches of the roaring Yarlung Zangbo River, will have power capacity of 510,000kW after its four-year construction.” The Dam will be 116 meters (381 feet) high when completed next year. Beijing said the project would be useful in “harnessing the rich water resources of the Yarlung Zangbo River to empower the development of the electricity-strapped region.” An official from the Tibetan Electric Power Co. was quoted as saying “The hydropower station will solve Tibet’s power shortage, especially in the winter.” However the times of India claims the massive dam project will also most likely affect the amount of water flowing to downstream regions, including the amount flowing into the Arunachal Pradesh and other northeastern regions of India, where the populations are heavily dependent on farming for economic survival. Like other massive dam projects in China the dam has sparked controversy and fears that tensions may rise between China and its downstream neighbors. China’s massive hydropower projects have displaced millions of people throughout the country along China’s largest watersheds. The projects also reduce the natural flow of fresh water to downstream regions and disrupt the flow of natural silts critical for ecosystem and agricultural health, negatively impacting downstream communities.

The Brahmaputra river in the Arunachal Pradesh region. (Photo courtesy of India Today)

The Indian government has previously expressed concern about damming the Brahmaputra River, arguing that the massive Himalayan watershed is a lifeline to some of India’s remote northeastern states, communities who depend on farming for survival. Last year the Indian External Affairs ministry urged China “to ensure that the interests of downstream states are not harmed by any activities in upstream areas” of the river, after state media reports that China planned several more dams in the region. However, New Delhi has had some difficulty arguing that the dam will create environmental justice concerns for its people because the Indian government has long supported the construction of massive hydropower stations along its own watersheds, despite the negative impacts on the environment created by those projects, especially in neighborhood Pakistan. S M Krishna, A previous Indian External Affairs minister has said New Delhi had “ascertained from our own sources that this is a run-of-the-river hydroelectric project which does not store water and will not adversely impact downstream areas in India.”

The Chinese Dam on the Brahmaputra is a run-of-the-river dam, a dam designer that creates a smaller retaining pool than traditional dam projects. Despite the argument that the flow of water from run-of-the-river dams is does not have a major impact on water flow these massive dams still have significant effects on the watershed. India has constructed several controversial run-of-the river dams in recent decades and is currently working on the massive Baglihar Dam project on the Chenab River in the Jemma and Kashmir region which resulted in a water dispute between India and Pakistan. The government of Pakistan has argued that the Baglihar Dam project violates the Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan, a treaty intended to prevent armed conflicts over the flow of water between the two countries.

For more information please see:

First Post India – China Builds Dam on Brahmaputra in Tibet, Stokes Fear in India – 24 November 2014

International Business Times India – India Fears Natural Calamities as China Builds Hydropower Dam on Brahmaputra in Tibet – 24 November 2014

The Times of India – China Builds Hydroelectric Dam On Brahmaputra in Tibet, India Fears Flash Floods – 24 November 2014

India Today – China Puts First Brahmaputra Dam into Operation – 23 November 2014

Author: Kathryn Maureen Ryan