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Three Gorges Dam tested as water rises

BEIJING (Reuters) - Rising water levels in China's giant Three Gorges Dam have triggered dozens of landslides in recent months, damaging houses, land and infrastructure worth millions of dollars, state media said on Thursday.

In July, China finished evacuating residents from the last town to be submerged by the massive 660-km (400-mile) long reservoir on the Yangtze River, ending an exodus of some 1.4 million people that began four years ago.

The 2,309-meter-long dam, the world's largest, aims to tame the river and provide cheap, clean energy for the country's rapid development.

But critics say rising water levels in the reservoir are eroding already fragile slopes and triggering landslides which could worsen as levels reach their maximum height next year.

The reservoir's administration began withholding water outflows in September to push the reservoir's water level up to 175 meters.

But since then, the rising water level had "further induced geological harm including landslides and collapsing of the reservoirs' banks," the Xinhua news agency quoted Chongqing government spokesman Wen Tianping as saying.

"(These) have caused damage or created a latent threat to ... infrastructure, land and housing in dam areas above the evacuation line," Wen said.

He added that 93 "surface threats" had emerged in 12 regions and counties around the dam area, causing direct losses of 360 million yuan ($53 million), but had not caused any injury or loss of life.

He however said the problems were anticipated during the dam's feasibility study and that there was no cause for concern.

Officials said last year 12 billion yuan ($1.75 billion) had been spent on repairs around the massive dam in past years and were confident such efforts were successful.

But in April, a large mudslide hit a village in the Gaoyang area near the dam in April, sweeping into a school playground. A landslide nearby killed 35 people late last year.

Finished in 2003, the dam's water level has risen in stages, reaching 156 meters in 2006. It is expected to reach its final height next year.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; editing by Nita Bhalla)

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