Beijing: Record-high water levels at China`s massive Three Gorges Dam have called into question Beijing`s claims that the world`s largest hydroelectric project could withstand a 10,000-year flood.
The water level reached 518 feet (158 meters) on Saturday morning, just 55 feet (17 meters) from the reservoir`s maximum capacity of 573 feet (175 meters), flood control headquarters in the central province of Hubei said.
Water could go higher with China`s national weather centre issuing a warning Saturday of more torrential rains for the region through 8 am on Sunday.
Minister of Water Resources Chen Lei urged officials to inspect and protect other dams and reservoirs in the region as well as flooding continues, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said.
Floods have left more than 270 people dead in southern China since July 01, with more than 200 missing, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said.
China has for years promoted the Three Gorges Dam as the best way to end centuries of floods along the Yangtze River basin and dismissed complaints about the enormous environmental impact of the USD 23 billion reservoir that has displaced more than 1.4 million people.
Seven years ago, Chinese officials boasted the dam could withstand floods so severe they come only once every 10,000 years. But as the current flooding in central China — especially along the country`s largest river, the Yangtze — shows no sign of waning, officials now warn the dam`s capacity is limited.
Since the completion of the Three Gorges Dam in 2006, confidence in its flood capacity has diminished.
In 2007, officials said the dam could withstand the worst flood in 1,000 years.
Then on Tuesday, the Three Gorges Corporation`s chairman, Cao Guangjing, told China Daily he can "absolutely guarantee" the dam can withstand the worst flood in 100 years.
Critics have long challenged the 410-mile-long (660-kilometer-long) Three Gorges project, saying increased water levels could lead to geological disasters such as landslides as the soil around the dam became more saturated and unsettled.
Liu Ning, vice minister of water resources, told a news conference this week that research teams have worked to prevent geological disasters.