The Three Gorges Dam in central China's Hubei Province Thursday opened its floodgates to ease severe water shortages along the Yangtze River.
The world's largest hydropower project has been releasing larger quantities of water since late December, according to the China Three Gorges Project Corporation.
The company said the dam could release an additional 6.1 billion cubic meters of water to the lower reaches by reducing the reservoir's water level from the current 155 to 144 meters.
The dam, 2,309 meters long and 185 meters high, was completed in May last year and the water level in the reservoir was raised from 135 to 156 meters in October. The company said the floodgates could maintain the water level at 144 meters.
The Yangtze River, China’s largest waterway, has experienced the lowest water levels in around a hundred years since last summer due to scarce rainfall and severe drought in the upper reaches, according to the Yangtze River Hydrology Bureau. The bureau said that in 2006 there was 30 to 40 percent less water flow than average in the river’s tributaries.
The Yichang hydrology station, downstream from the dam, recorded only 64 percent of average annual water flow. This is the lowest since hydrology records began in 1877. Water flow downstream in Hankou and Datong has also fallen off sharply.
The bureau said the severe water shortage had led to occasional reports of boats being stranded in the shallows and difficulties in water resources for industry, agriculture and households.
Cheng Haiyun, the bureau's chief engineer, has denied suggestions that the record low water levels were connected to the Three Gorges hydropower project.
Started in 1993 and costing an estimated 180 billion yuan (US$23 billion) the Three Gorges Project on the middle reaches of the river will have 26 generators when complete in 2009 and be capable of generating 84.7 billion kwh of electricity annually.
(Xinhua News Agency January 12, 2007)