China's Green Beat - Hydropower on the Nu River

The Nu River flows some 3059 kilometers from the slopes of Tangula Mountain in the Qinghai-Tibet plateau to the northeast corner of the Indian Ocean. For approximately 700 kilometers of this length, it carves what has been called the “Grand Canyon of the East.” The river is flanked by the Gao Li Gong Shan range to the west, and the Bi Luo Snow Mountain and Mei Li Snow Mountain Ranges to the east, forming a canyon of 4500 meters in depth.

The Nu River flows through Yunnan Province in China before it broadens and enters eastern Burma, where it is more commonly known as the Salween River. The Salween River forms a portion of the Burmese-Thai border and empties into the Andaman Sea in Kayin State.

The topography of the Nu River gorge creates a diversity of climatic zones, including subtropical at the river’s edge and alpine at its adjacent peaks. Nu River fishermanNu River fishermanThese diverse climatic zones host a diversity of plant and animal species; estimates range around 6000 plant and animal species, which represent some 25-33% of the known plant and animal species in China. Of these, some 1397 are listed protected species (Huang, 2003). In addition, there are 48 known fish species in the Nu River, among which some 70% are endemic to the river, and four of which are listed as endangered species (Huang, 2003).

The Nu River is threatened by a proposed cascade of thirteen hydropower dams, which would generate as much power as China’s Three Gorges Dam and would displace local ethnic communities.