All reservoirs in Chongqing currently hold 1.17 billion cubic meters of water, only half the normal amount, said officials with the Chongqing flood control and drought relief office.
The drought has also affected 104,000 hectares of farmland and left nearly 1 million heads of livestock short of water in the municipality of 28 million residents.
A spokesman of Shapingba Waterworks, one of the largest drinking water suppliers in the city center, told Xinhua News Agency that only one of its 10 pipes used to pump water from the Yangtze was still below the water surface and in operation -- and even then only 10 cm below the water level.
"If the water levels in the Yangtze and its upper tributary Jialing River continue to decline, we'll face a real crisis," he said.
The municipal drought control authority has sent water wagons to the drought-hit areas to provide water for local people and cattle and has told local governments to build up reserves. Some 1,600 people in two villages, namely Huanshan and Xindian, are at present completely dependent on the water wagon for drinking water.
The local hydrological bureau said water levels in the Yangtze and Jialing rivers had declined sharply in recent weeks due to a lack of rainfall. This follows the same pattern as last summer's severe drought that forced tens of thousands of farmers to eke out a living away from home -- many ended up picking cotton in northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
On Sunday, the water level at Cuntan hydrological station in Chongqing measured 158.43 meters, only 35 centimeters higher than the record low reported in 1987, said a bureau spokesman surnamed Wang.
Wang blamed a glut of power plants in the Yangtze's upper reaches for the decline in water, but did not link the water shortages with the operation of the Three Gorges Dam, which is located in the lower reaches of the Yangtze. Sources with the China Three Gorges Project Corporation said the water shortage in the upper reaches had not affected the world's largest water storage facility.
The flow of water into the dam measured 3,700 cubic meters per second and the water level at the dam was 153.43 meters on Sunday afternoon, safeguarding the operation of the dam and navigation in the lower reaches, they said.
But the declining water level in Chongqing has wreaked havoc with navigation as a cargo ship carrying 1,400 tons of timber was stranded on Sunday close to Chongqing's Xinggang port. The salvage operation lasted five hours.
"A reading of 0.5 meters above zero level is required for safe shipping, but the Chongqing section of the Yangtze is currently 0.47 meters below zero level, " said Xia Shipeng, an official with the Chongqing maritime safety administration.
Dozens of vessels have run aground on the Yangtze, Xia added.
On Monday, the local maritime bureau declared that navigation in the area would be suspended between 12:30 PM and 2:30 PM every day for surveying and dredging.
"The Yangtze suffers drought almost every spring, but this year's situation is worse than normal," said a sailor, adding his observation that the water level at Chaotianmen Wharf in central Chongqing was "lower by at least one meter" compared with last year.
Determined not to miss the silver lining, the exposed riverbed near the wharf has become a temporary playground for locals to sunbathe and fly kites.
The Chongqing municipal flood control and drought relief office predicted the drought would last until after the rainy season begins in May, but will return in the middle of summer and will last for at least 30 days. The office said it planned to help ease the drought through artificial rainfall.
The Chongqing government has advised villagers to plant less water-consuming crops and make use of water conservation technologies. Technicians have been dispatched to drought-hit areas to offer guidance.
Water conservation experts believe most parts of Chongqing will receive between 1,000 and 1,300 millimeters of rainfall this year, slightly more than in recent years. But a severe drought is still likely to affect the southeastern part of the city in mid July.
Chongqing and neighboring Sichuan Province in the upper reaches of the Yangtze suffered their worst water shortages in more than a century last summer when the water level and rainfall nearly halved.
The Yangtze River, the third longest in the world after the Nile and the Amazon, runs from far west Qinghai and Tibet through 186 cities including Chongqing, Wuhan and Nanjing before emptying into the sea in Shanghai.
The combined gross domestic product (GDP) of cities along the Yangtze River accounts for 41 percent of the national total, according to government statistics.
(Xinhua News Agency February 27, 2007)