Recently, many people (specifically geopolitical and financial analysts) have pointed out that there is a serious concern about China's Three Gorges Dam breaking and causing catastrophic flooding that would displace millions of people and disastrously disrupt global industrial production & supply chains.

Three Gorges Dam

While there is substantial evidence that China is currently going through some very serious abnormal flooding, I cannot seem to find any one expounding on what exactly the concern is. It is common to assume that if the Chinese government says everything is fine that it is likely not, but I would like much more specific technical analysis of the dam explaining the exact concerns. I have found some pseudo-science feeling explanations involving google earth images showing distortion in the dam, but much of this seems... dubious.

Are specific design criteria being surpassed? Is the water lever simply higher than the Three Gorges has ever seen? Are there structural, construction or engineering defects involved? I am not a Civil Engineer by trade and do not have experience with things like dams, bridges or roads - let alone mega-engineering projects such as these.

What exactly is the risk that the Three Gorges damn is susceptible to during this flooding, if any?

  • $\begingroup$ Is the level the highest ever seen? You could check this. $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Jul 31 '20 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ There is no specific issue with the design. The concern is based on a worst-case failure, which in the case of a huge dam is is a very worst cast event. Virtually all dams have this same issue. $\endgroup$
    – Tiger Guy
    Aug 3 '20 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ @TigerGuy Right, that's sort of the thing I'm try to tease out of this. what "numbers" indicate that the worst case scenario was undershot? was it really undershot? is there something like a "service factor" that has to be taken into account? Did they simply not design for a 100-year flood type situation? What does that look like in M3 flow / water level? I'm not sure where to begin with critical design factors of dams. $\endgroup$
    – ChemE mang
    Aug 5 '20 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ @ChemEmang I doubt there is anything specific, just environmentalists & humanists who don't like the project. If you want to know how awesome the project is you can go ask on r/sino on Reddit. $\endgroup$
    – Tiger Guy
    Aug 5 '20 at 20:08

A major design factor of any dam is the spillway; It allows any amount of excess water to safely escape without "overtopping" the dam. It sounds like an exciting "news" story . Generally it is very bad for any dam to fail. If the journalists have some critical information they should inform the Chinese government and not write stories about it.


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