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Xiaonanhai Hydroelectric Dam on the Yangtze River in Chongqing, China

China’s environment ministry refused approval for a hydropower dam on an ecologically vulnerable river already damaged by construction, a rare setback for the country’s extensive dam-building program.


Xiaonanhai Dam was proposed on the Yangtze River in Chongqing, China according to the “Plan for the Comprehensive Utilization of the Yangtze River Basin” (1990)[1]. The feasibility study was approved by the Water Resource Department in Sichuan Province (Chongqing was a municipality in Sichuan Province before it became one of China's four direct-controlled municipalities since 1997 March) in 1991 and the report on the feasibility study was approved on 1993 by the same department, and later the draft technical design of the project was approved in December 1996. In July 1997, the Provincial Planning Commission approved the construction and investment plan for energy and electricity supply. The project firstly started in December 1997; however, it stopped the first time in 1998 due to lack of funds. [2]

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Xiaonanhai Hydroelectric Dam on the Yangtze River in Chongqing, China
State or province:Chongqing
Location of conflict:Luohuang Township in Jiangjin District, Dadukou, Jiulongpo, Banan and other places along the Yangtze River
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Dams and water distribution conflicts
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Electricity
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The Xiaonanhai dam is designed to produce 1.76 gigawatts, a fraction of the 22.50GW that the Three Gorges Dam will produce when it reaches full capacity.

Level of Investment for the conflictive project3,750,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:400,000 (amount displaced)
Start of the conflict:2012
Company names or state enterprises:China Three Gorges Corporation (CTG ) from China - construction of dam
Relevant government actors:Bo Xilai, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (then the State Environmental Protection Agency - SEPA), the State Council, the former chief of the Yangtze Water Resources Protection Bureau Weng Lida, former vice-chair of the NPPCC with responsibility for hydropower development Qian Zhengling, the Ministry of Agriculture
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:-Friends of Nature
- Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs
- Green Earth Volunteers
- Nature Conservancy
- Institute of Hydrobiology
- Chinese Academy of Sciences
- International Rivers
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
New legislation
Application of existing regulations
Project temporarily suspended
Proposal and development of alternatives:The open letter from the Chinese environmental NGOs of 31 March 2012 was addressed to Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang to call for an immediate stop on the unsustainable Xiaonanhai Project (Pre-construction Preparation) indicated that “A series of alternative plans are worth considering in meeting the electricity demand in Chongqing. Establishing a cooperative and sharing relationship between Chongqing and the Three Gorges Corporation on the four dams on the lower Jingsha River is a viable solution.”
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Despite strong opposition from environmentalists, scientists, and even government agencies such as the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry for Environmental Protection, preliminary dam construction began on 29 March, 2012. The dam was expected to be completed by 2019. However, In April 2015, The Ministry of Environmental Protection said in a document sent to the Three Gorges Project Corporation for authorizing the Wudongde dam stated that: “In the last 10 years, two investigations have been carried out into construction in precious and unique national protection zones for fish in the lower reaches of the Jinsha river, and the structure and function of the zones have already been heavily impacted... Your company as well as other units cannot plan or build the Xiaonanhai hydropower plant.”
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Gazette of the State Council of The People’s Republic of China. (1990). Comment and Observations Concerning the Summary Report on the Plan for the Comprehensive Utilization of the Yangtze River Basin. Issue No. 23 serial No. 632. On January 15, 1991
[click to view]

[5] Briefing on Xiaonanhai Dam and Its Impact on the Upper Yangtze Rare and Endemic Fishery by Fan Xiao, February 2011. Includes Maps of the redrawn fish reserve and photos of endangered fish species.
[click to view]

[8] A call for an Immediate Stop to the Unsustainable Xiaonanhai Project (Pre-construction Preparation)
[click to view]

[2] Xiaonanhai Dam 小南海水电站
[click to view]

[click to view]

[4] International Rivers: Xiaonanhai Dam.
[click to view]

[6] China Proceeds on Plan for Disputed Yangtze Dam. By MICHAEL WINES, DEC. 29, 2011
[click to view]

[7] Open Letter on the protection of Upper Yangtze
[click to view]

[click to view]

[10] China's environment ministry blocks hydro project
[click to view]

[11] China blocks $4bn Xiaonanhai dam development
[click to view]

The story of the Xiaonanhai dam
[click to view]

Other comments:According to The Financial Times 8 April 2017, China’s environment ministry blocked this $3.75bn dam project that would have flooded the last free-flowing section of the middle reaches of the Yangtze river, in a rare victory for environmentalists.
Upriver from the inland port city of Chongqing, the Xiaonanhai dam has been a rallying cause for Chinese environmentalists ..." (Financial Times,
Meta information
Contributor: revised by EnvJustice, ICTA-UAB
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1731
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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