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A Struggle for Power in China: The Three Gorges Dam


Dan Hua
Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Virginia Tech
Brian R. Murphy
Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Virginia Tech
Michelle D. Klopfer
Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Virginia Tech


The Three Gorges Dam in China is one of the world's largest hydroelectric dams, providing energy for millions of people. However, the dam's construction forever altered the Yangtze River ecosystem and the lives of local residents. In this case study, students explore the complex and inter-related issues associated with large ecosystem-altering projects like dams and develop a persuasive argument for or against their construction. Do the benefits from a dam outweigh the ecological, economic, and social costs? Answering this question is difficult, since the benefits and costs are not directly comparable. How do you compare the loss of endemic species to the increased safety from flooding? How do you weigh a relocated family's social and economic costs in comparison to the benefits of a sustainable and renewable energy source? Although this case was developed for an undergraduate course in fisheries management, it would also be directly applicable to courses in ecology, environmental engineering, or global issues.


  • Research and evaluate information related to ecological, economic, or social aspects of dam construction.
  • Compare and contrast the positive and negative impacts of dams.
  • Create a persuasive argument for or against dam construction.
  • Evaluate multiple aspects of a complex issue and justify a personal position.


Three Gorges Dam; hydroelectric dams; energy; biodiversity; economic productivity; power generation; fisheries; environmental decision-making; China

Topical Areas

Ethics, Regulatory issues, Scientific argumentation, Social issues, Social justice issues

Educational Level

Undergraduate upper division, Graduate, Professional (degree program), General public & informal education, Continuing education



Type / Methods

Analysis (Issues), Debate, Dilemma/Decision, Discussion, Student Presentations



Subject Headings

Ecology  |   Natural Resource Management  |   Wildlife Management  |   Environmental Science  |   Environmental Engineering  |   Chemistry (General)  |   Hydrology  |   Limnology  |   Biology (General)  |   Economics  |   Sociology  |   Interdisciplinary Sciences  |  

Date Posted


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