David de Rothschild famously built the Plastiki out of plastic bottles and sailed it from California to the fabled Pacific Garbage Patch. The journey took months to plan and more than a year to fully realize. But if he were in China on the Yangtze River, all he would have to do to see the problems a garbage patch can cause a waterway is walk to the shore. Recent rains in China have washed thousands of tons of garbage toward the locks of the Three Gorges Dam. Their state media said that it is so thick that people can stand on it in some places.
Over the past month, a two foot thick mass of garbage has been washed into the river by the rainy season- even compacted so that people can walk on it in some places. It covers around half a million square feet of water, everything from shoes and branches to bottles and Styrofoam. It’s a bit of an “I told you so…” moment for environmentalists, who have long warned that the massive dam could create a pool of raw sewage, industrial chemicals and trash.
“The large amount of waste in the dam area could jam the miter gate of the Three Gorges Dam. Such a large amount of debris could damage the propellers and bottoms of passing boats. The decaying garbage could also harm the scenery and the water quality.” — Chen Lei, senior official at the China Three Gorges Corporation
The Three Gorges Dam has a long history of issues almost as troublesome as the flooding it was built to deal with. It has cost over $37 billion, caused the relocation of 1.3 million people, and submerged whole towns as well as historical and archaeological sites. And now the world’s largest hydropower project has an equally big problem with garbage.