SEAN GALLAGHER, FOR THE PULITZER CENTER
“Of course we are not happy with what has happened here. But what can we do?”
Dolkar (name changed to protect identity) looked out onto the tranquil water which disappeared between the valleys before him. Small waves lapped near our feet as we stood on the side of a huge reservoir that had risen up the mountain sides just two years before, changing the landscape forever.
On one side of where we stood lay a serene reservoir—on the other, the Maoergai Dam, a colossal 147 meter high, clay-core, gravel dam sandwiched between two mountains either side of it. A dry and gray channel disappeared off into the distance where the Heishui (Black Water) river had once flowed freely in the mountains of northern Sichuan, in the Tibetan region of Aba.
“Three villages had to be relocated because of this dam”, continued Dolkar, a Tibetan man from a village nearby. “There were homes, schools, a hospital. All are now under the water. People did not want to leave. They even went to Beijing to protest but the local police from Heishui went to find them and brought them back.”
It’s a familiar tale, as China’s rush to develop hydropower has seen the construction of over 25,000 dams across the country. With a recent focus on the rivers of the Tibetan Plateau, the environmental and social consequences of such projects in this region are increasingly becoming a source of friction between locals and the authorities.