China fact of the day

Before the Communists came to power in 1949, China had only 22 dams of any significant size. Now the country has more than half of the world’s roughly 50,000 large dams, defined as having a height of at least 15 meters, or a storage capacity of more than three million cubic meters. Thus, China has completed, on average, at least one large dam per day since 1949. If dams of all sizes are counted, China’s total surpasses 85,000.

The source is here, via Udadisi.


But what about the snail darters? Doesn't China care?

In Communist China, snail darter is a well-respected occupation.

More evidence that communism hinders the free flow of water.

Something seems fishy. Wouldn't that mean a large dam every 12 miles or so throughout the nation?

How could something smell fishy? I can assure you China's waterways are completely devoid of fish or any other marine life.

It's the socks.

China is 3.7 million square miles. That's a dam per 148 square miles. Is that where you get 12 miles between dams?

La Wiki says that China has 420,000 kilometers of rivers, so that means a dam every 16 kilometers. I have no idea how small something can be to count as a "river" in that measure. If it's "rivers of any size" and so we should use the "dam of any size" number, that's a dam of some size every 4.9 kilometers.

Exactly. That seems intuitively odd. If you put a large dam every 10 miles on a river the downstream reservoirs should essentially merge with the upstream dam.

Well, and the obvious, "the country has more than half of the world’s roughly 50,000 large dams". That seems a lot for a country that's less than 4% the land area of the rest of the world.

you should be able to see all of them using Google earth...

In China, you can probably get government financing to build dams even when you don't have rivers to put them on.

In 1949 the former Japanese colony of Taiwan had more miles of railroad than all of Mainland China.

Umm, I call bullsh!t on that claim. All by itself, the Beijing-Guangzhou railway line, which was finished bar one single bridge, is some 2,300 kilometers long. As of 2003 Taiwan has just under 1,500 kilometers of railway.

So either Taiwan has closed down over half its railways, or this claim is factually wrong.

The better question is how many of those dams were make-work infrastructure solutions in search of problems and how many were ultimately worth it.

When your population is growing at Chinese rates most infrastructure solutions will find the problem they seek. Sooner rather than later.

China's total fertility rate is 1.66, well below replacement level. It has been below replacement level since 1993. Population growth rates have been as follows:

1949 - the Present: 1.51%
1960 - the Present: 1.37%
1978 - the Present: 1.08%
1990 - the Present: 0.87%

The corresponding figures for the U.S. have are 1.14%, 1.02%, 0.91%, and 0.89%.

I do not thing excess demographic growth is their problem, or will be in the future.

Fifteen meters high or 3 million cubic meters of water (2,500 acre-ft) is setting the bar pretty low for a "large" dam. Boulder Dam on the Colorado is 700 feet high and stores 10 million acre-feet, but even ignoring it, there are a couple of unremarkable dams downstream, Davis and Parker that impound Lake Mohave and Lake Havasu. Davis is an earth fill dam 200 feet high and its reservoir covers 26,000 acres. Parker is 320 feet high and stores 600,000 acre-feet behind it.

According to there are 75,000 dams in the US on 600,000 miles of rivers, for about 8 miles per dam. These sort of numbers don't seem all that unrealistic when you think about very small dams used for agriculture.

Yes, but do people refer to them as "large dams"?

15 meters is roughly 50 feet. I get what you're saying, but that's not what I think of when you say "very small" dams.

For the most part dams as short as 15 meters and reservoirs as small as 3 million cubic meters do not have names, and people living three miles away aren't even aware they exist.

How many dams were there in the US in 1932? How many were built between then and 1980 when dam building just stopped?

In Texas every large non municipal dam I know of dates no earlier than the FDR period. The vast majority were built after 1949.

How many were replacements for dams destroyed during WWII. With better planning how many of these dams could have been consolidated into larger projects? If you can easily confiscate property and convert its use, how do you know if it is the most effective use of resources.

Mostly, who got rich from this?

when i read this articles I think of how even after all the building that is going on in china, the density of infrastructure is far lower than in the western world. they are at least 30 years removed from any housing bubble.

Well, they had to put all the bodies somewhere...what better than in large concrete and earthen dams.

Dams are the perfect project for adolescent big governments. The technology is basic, been around for a long time, materials are cheap and plentiful, concrete and steel, and the construction requires lots of low-skill labor. Plenty to like for a state trying to put people to work and cash in on some hydro power.

I'm not impressed, China. Here in the US, in just the past six years, we've had discussions about almost starting to think about beginning construction on an oil pipeline.

"Is this a God dam?"

-- Butthead, upon touring Hoover Dam.

If there's one thing I like to stress about the experience of the Chinese economy under Mao's Communists, it is that the broad development of infrastructure such as electricity and transport and also in education and health, almost entirely developed under the CCP, provided excellent possibilities for rapid expansion as the scope for exchange and production on private markets expanded.

After 1978, and in particularly after the mid-1980s, household responsibility systems in (relatively) liberalized agricultural combined with township and village enterprise drove growth, and state-owned enterprise has declined as a share of GDP basically since then.

But absent the endowment of physical infrastructure and human capital, I highly doubt it would have taken.

Of course, lots of those local companies got big quick as the partnered with foreigners eager to get into the Chinese labour market.

Many of those dams are not necessarily built on rivers, but may be holding storage ponds and similar.

Biggest dam disaster in history is Chinese


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