TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A retired Indian Army colonel on Friday (July 10) released satellite images appearing to show the Three Gorges Dam releasing water far earlier than reported and at a much greater rate than announced.
Although the plum rain season started on May 29, and the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) had issued a heavy rain warning across China throughout the month of June, it was not until June 29 that the Chinese government finally admitted that it had released floodwaters from its spillways for the first time this year. That day, Beijing claimed that the dam's operators had opened two spillways that morning, marking the first official flood discharge from the mammoth structure this year.
However, Colonel Vinayak Bhat (Retd.) on Friday in India Today released a satellite image showing an indication of water being released from at least five large and five small floodgates on June 24, five days before the Chinese government claimed it had released floodwaters. The Chongqing Municipal Hydrological Monitoring Station on June 22 issued its first red alert flood warning in 80 years for the Qijiang River.
2017 image showing water levels far higher but no water releases. (India Today image)
Given that the Qijiang is a tributary of the Yangtze River, there was much anticipation for a massive rise in the reservoir level of the Three Gorges Dam in the coming days. Yet, according to Vinayak, the water level of the reservoir on June 24, two days after the massive floods upstream, was actually lower by 15 meters compared to a photo from Oct. 27, 2017, when the floodgates were all shut.
Based on the water level of Zhongbao Island, Vinayak, who is an open-source intelligence (OSINT) consultant with India Today, asserts that given that the water level was 15 meters higher in 2017, there was no apparent need to open the floodgates, and such a discharge as seen on June 24 should not have been necessary. Furthermore, given the 80-year flood upstream on June 22, the level of the reservoir should have rivaled those seen in October 2017, which was many months after the floods seen that year.
On June 27 and 28, multiple videos posted on social media showed the city of Yichang, which sits just below the Three Gorges Dam, experiencing extensive flooding. Residents were cited on social media as suspecting that the flooding was a result of the massive dam opening its sluice gates to relieve stress on its structure, while ordinary citizens below pay the price.
June 24 image showing water release from floodgates and ship lift. (India Today image)
In addition, the most recent satellite image, the dam appears to be releasing far more water than what the Chinese government has officially stated. On June 29, Beijing admitted that it had opened up two floodgates at the dam.
China's state-run mouthpiece CGTN on July 3 claimed that the Three Gorges Dam opened "three flood discharging outlets" on July 2. The mouthpiece then claimed that the flood inflow rate reached 50,000 cubic meters per second, while the outflow has been "controlled" at an average daily rate of 35,000 cubic meters per second, allegedly reducing 30 percent of the Yangtze River's peak discharge, which "effectively relieved the pressure of flood control on the middle and lower reaches of the river."
However, a satellite image from July 9 appears to show all flood gates at the dam to have been opened. The Three Gorges Dam spillway is comprised of 23 bottom outlets and 22 surface sluice gates.
July 9 image appearing to show all floodgates open. (India Today image)
Vinayak told Taiwan News that based on his estimation, all the flood gates were at least partially open with at least five large gates fully open. He said that given that the dam had the structural integrity to withstand much higher water levels in the past, there was no need to open the floodgates as soon as June 24.
He then alleged that the purpose of opening the floodgates so early was "so that all evidence is washed away before the WHO representatives visit the Wuhan hospitals and lab." Two World Health Organization (WHO) experts went to Beijing over the weekend to discuss their plans to visit Wuhan to investigate the origins of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The latest satellite images come from open-source imagery provider Sentinel, while the older maps are sourced from Google Earth, according to Vinayak.
Col (Retired) Vinayak Bhat served in the Indian Army for over 33 years. He was a satellite imagery analyst for more than two decades and served in high altitude areas of J&K and North East. An alumnus of NDA, Pune, he was a mountaineer during his young days, climbing peaks like Stok Kangri and Nun Peak.