Three Gorges releases water to ease China shortage

The world’s largest hydropower project, China’s 18,200-MW Three Gorges Dam, opened its floodgates January 11 to ease water shortages not seen along the Yangtze River since the Qing Dynasty.

State media said officials experimented with tentative discharges in December and formally started releases this week.

Downstream reaches of the Yangtze have suffered the lowest water levels since record keeping began in 1877, caused by scarce rainfall and last year’s severe drought in the upper reaches, state-owned Xinhua news agency said.

�Cases of boats being stranded by the shallow water have been reported frequently and difficulties in industrial, agricultural, and household uses of water in the mid- and lower reaches of the Yangtze have arisen since November,� it said.

Three Gorges could release about 6.1 billion cubic meters of water to the lower reaches by cutting the reservoir’s water level from the current 155 meters to 144 meters, Xinhua said.

China marked completion of the dam in central Hubei Province in May, after 13 years of construction. (HNN 1/5/07) It had raised water levels by more than 20 meters to 156 meters in September and October.

But not far downstream, Yichang recorded a 2006 water flow on the Yangtze that was only 64 percent of the average annual amount of past years, the lowest since records were available from 1877, Xinhua said. Monitoring sites in Hankou and Datong also reported historic low water levels, it added.

Heat waves and the worst drought in more than a century hit Chongqing and Sichuan Province in the upper reaches for months last summer, eliminating the usual flood season on a river notorious for breaching its banks and killing thousands.

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