Drought Halts Yangtze Shipping

The Yangtze River, which carries 80% of China’s river freight, has been closed to ocean-going vessels in response to historically low water levels. From the AFP:

The water level along the lower reaches of the river near the city of Wuhan was just above three metres (10 feet) on Thursday, the Chang Jiang Waterway Bureau said on its website.

A day earlier, the bureau closed a 228-kilometre (140-mile) stretch above Wuhan to ocean-going vessels due to shallow water in an effort to prevent the ships from bottoming out.

Further up the river, the massive Three Gorges Dam, the world’s biggest hydroelectric project, has discharged more water to alleviate the drought conditions down river, state press reported.

It was not immediately clear if the measures would be effective, as the drought along the middle reaches has sent water levels to their lowest point in five decades, the China Daily said.

At least two ships have been stranded in recent days as dozens of emergency teams have been dispatched to prevent accidents along the middle reaches, where the river has shrunk to an average width of about 150 metres, it said.

According to Wang Jingquan of the Yangtze River Water Resources Committee, damming up the river at the controversial Three Gorges Dam has aggravated the drought by diverting water flow to the lower reaches, the paper said.

The Three Gorges’ reservoir is itself being squeezed between high demand downriver and low flow from upstream, according to Bloomberg:

China Three Gorges Corp. said water levels at the world’s biggest hydropower dam are falling faster than expected after flows from upstream on the Yangtze River this month were 40 percent less than in the previous three years.

The water level behind the Three Gorges dam may fall to less than 155 meters after releasing water at a rate of 7,000 cubic meters per second to ease a drought downstream, the operator of the hydropower station said in a statement on its website. The government last year estimated water levels at the dam would reach 155 meters by May 25, according to the statement.

Falling water levels will cut Three Gorges’s power generating capacity and hurt profitability at its listed unit, China Yangtze Power Co., said Capital Securities Corp. analyst Lai Shensheng. When the water level is 140 meters to 175 meters, the listed company’s profit may be reduced by 0.01 yuan for every 10 meters the level drops, Lai said. Effects become greater when water levels are below 140 meters, he said.

As pointed out on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Twitter account, the “basis for China’s South-North water transfer project looks ever more dubious” as the river from which it is supposed to draw water is itself struggling. The Yangtze’s navigability has encouraged the growth of industry along its banks, as factories move inland to escape from rising labour costs in coastal provinces.

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