Environmental problems triggered by the dam began to emerge at the world's largest hydropower project after it started operations last year, the official Xinhua news agency reported."If no preventive measures are taken, the project could lead to catastrophe," the report quoted experts as saying at a conference on the dam.
The head of the office in charge of constructing the dam, Wang Xiaofeng, warned of a plethora of problems sparked by the construction of the dam, including landslides, soil erosion and water pollution.
"We cannot relax our guard against ecological and environmental security problems brought on by the Three Gorges project," Wang was quoted as saying.
"We absolutely cannot sacrifice our environment in exchange for temporary economic prosperity."
The huge weight of the water behind the dam had started to erode the Yangtze's banks in many places, which, together with frequent fluctuations in water levels, had triggered a series of landslides, they said.
Tan Qiwei, vice mayor of Chongqing, a sprawling southwest metropolis next to the reservoir, said the shore of the reservoir had collapsed in 91 places and a total of 36 kilometres (22 miles) of shoreline had caved in.
Frequent geological disasters had also threatened the lives of residents around the reservoir, said Huang Xuebin, head of the Headquarters for Prevention and Control of Geological Disasters at the Three Gorges Reservoir.
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He said landslides around the reservoir had produced waves as high as 50 metres (165 feet), which crashed into the adjacent shoreline, causing even more damage.
Local government officials around the dam area also reported to the conference that the water quality in Yangtze river tributaries had suffered and threatened drinking water safety for residents.
Pollution caused by sedimentation put at risk the drinking water supply to 50,000 residents in one county and led to a proliferation of algae in many local rivers, they said.
Wang said Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has told a cabinet meeting this year that solving environmental problems surrounding the controversial dam project should be a priority for the country.
Where proponents of the giant hydropower project see increased electricity generation and improved flood control, critics have long warned about damage to the environment, ruin to China's heritage and misery to local residents.
The impact of the dam on the region's wildlife is also an issue, with some critics arguing it may have contributed to the likely extinction of the rare Yangtze river dolphin.
The dam, which cost over 22 billion dollars to build, has also led to much criticism because of the forced resettlement of around 1.4 million people, and has been plagued by corruption.
Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse