Torrents of floodwater sluice through the Three Gorges Dam (map) in a picture taken Monday in Yichang, China. The country's worst flooding in more than a decade has struck this summer, killing 900 and displacing nearly 10 million so far, according to Reuters and the Associated Press.
Three Gorges Dam, situated on the Yangtze River, is 1.4 miles (2.3 kilometers) long and 607 feet (185 meters) tall. Building the dam flooded hundreds of miles of pristine gorges, villages, and historic temples. (See "China's Three Gorges Dam, by the Numbers.")
A major justification for the dam's construction was its potential for controlling the Yangtze's notorious floods. But now the swollen Yangtze has placed the dam's reservoir at about 90 percent capacity, putting the hydroelectric dam to one of its most serious tests to date.
Photograph from ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images
Jets of water shoot through the Three Gorges Dam on July 27. On Wednesday the flow peaked at 1.96 million cubic feet (56,000 cubic meters) a second, according to China's state-run Xinhua news agency.
The amount of floodwater accumulating in the Three Gorges reservoir has pushed water levels to 518 feet (158 meters), according to Xinhua. The reservoir's maximum capacity is 575 feet (175 meters).
"Right now, the Han River in Hubei Province"—a branch of the Yangtze River, which flows through the dam—"is on the verge [of] breaching warning levels," a government official told AP yesterday.
This year's floods in China are the worst since 1998, when torrential flooding killed 4,150 people, according to AP.
Photograph from Reuters
In the southwestern city of Chongqing—upstream from the Three Gorges Dam—Chinese firefighters clean up mud created by the deadly flooding in a picture taken July 22.
About 900,000 homes in China have already been destroyed by floods this year, according to AP. The large amounts of water being released by the two-year-old Three Gorges Dam could have a major impact on the millions of people that live downstream, including 9.1 million in the provincial capital of Wuhan.
Photograph from AFP/Getty Images
three gorges dam floodwater china rubble
In this photo taken Saturday July 24, 2010, residents look after their belongings near buildings in low lying areas that were demolished in China's Hubei province.
Water levels crept lower from a record high in the reservoir behind the massive Three Gorges Dam on Sunday, but authorities warned they did not know whether the drop would continue.
Photograph by AP
Flotsam and Jetsam
Workers on a specialized ship remove floating garbage, such as flood-swept trees, from the reservoir behind the Three Gorges Dam on July 21.
The flooding also washed 350,000 pounds (160,000 kilograms) of explosive chemicals into the flood-swollen Songhua River in Jilin Province, Chinese state media said on Wednesday. The contamination forced officials to shut off water supplies to nearly four million people, Reuters reported.
Floodwaters course through the Three Gorges Dam on July 20.
In 2007 Chinese officials had guaranteed the dam would be able to withstand the equivalent to the worst flood seen in China in a thousand years, AP reported. But on Tuesday a government official told the China Daily newspaper that he could only "absolutely guarantee" the dam would withstand the worst flood in a hundred years.
Already this year, the flood-prone Yangtze River Basin has seen 15 percent more rain than average, Duan Yihong, of the National Meteorological Center, told Xinhua.
"Rains should begin to slow down in August, but it is hard to predict now what exactly will happen. We have to be vigilant and closely monitor the weather."