The Three Gorges Dam has increased water discharge in a bid to maintain normal shipping along China's longest river, the Yangtze, which is currently suffering its worst drought in 50 years.
The discharge speed reached 5,500 cubic meters per second on Thursday, 300 cubic meters more than Tuesday, when the dam, the world's largest hydropower project, started the move to alleviate the effects of drought, according to the China Three Gorges Project Corporation (CTGPC), the dam builder.
Less rainfall inflow along the upper reaches of the river has lowered water level by up to 2 meters in the middle reaches, and the average water level has decreased by 1.5 meters more than normal.
At least 26 cargo ships have been stranded in the section that encompasses Yichang, Wuhan, Jingzhou of Hubei Province and Jiujiang, Hukou of the neighboring Jiangxi Province, over the past month, according to the Yangtze River Maritime Administration (YRMA).
By Thursday afternoon, water level in the Yichang section, almost the start of the middle reaches, has regained 0.5 meters.
The discharge is scheduled to last until Tuesday and the CTGPC will decide whether to continue or suspend the move according to the state of the river.
YRMA issued an emergency warning on Wednesday, reminding cargo ships to avoid being stranded in the middle reaches.
According to an order issued by Yichang Maritime Bureau, every cargo ship must undergo weight checks at eight harbors in Yichang City and unload excess goods before continuing.
An average of 170 cargo ships will navigate along the route every day.
More than 1,000 workers, 100 boats and 18 dredgers are digging out silt in the river maintaining the route to ensure safety for passing ships.
The Yangtze, which stretches 6,300 km, suffers a dry season between November and April. This is often followed by a spring flood.
The Three Gorges Dam, built between the upper and middle reaches of the river, will unleash water reserves to alleviate the drought or hold up floods before they inundate downstream regions.
(Xinhua News Agency, December 7, 2007)