China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Update: Three Gorges dam not responsible for drought - official

Beijing. August 18. INTERFAX-CHINA - The Three Gorges Dam project is not responsible for the drought in Sichuan Province and the neighboring municipality of Chongqing, Dong Wenjie, the director of the China Meteorological Administration's National Climate Center said in an interview with the state press.

18 mln people currently lack access to drinking water in the two southwestern Chinese regions.  Dependence on hydropower means that the area is also suffering from acute electricity shortages. 

The water flow into the Three Gorges section of the Yangtze River is the lowest in 130 years at just 8,100 cu m per second, affecting power output at the Three Gorges hydropower project and its neighbor, the Gezhouba station. 

Officials at the facilities are working to maintain output, but a spokesman for Yangtze Power, the listed owner of Gezhouba as well as several generators at the Three Gorges Project, told Interfax that some generators have already stopped operations.  

The average runoff of the upper reaches in the Yangtze River has been 59.75% lower than the normal figure as a result of the drought, according to the China Power News.

The Sichuan power authorities have also released a "black alert" warning that that electricity supplies are now at a state of emergency.  They have imposed restrictions on major enterprises in the region, including the Chengdu Tobacco Group and Toyota, as well as a number of industrial parks. 

Electricity to the Sichuan Power Grid has fallen by more than a third compared to the same period of last year, according to China Power News.

The province has had to reduce the transmission of power to eastern provinces by 9 mln kWh a day, and have been forced to source additional electricity supplies from the Central China Power Grid.   

The state press has felt compelled to stress that all these problems have not been caused by the impoundment of the Three Gorges reservoir. 

High temperatures and a tropical high-pressure system are the cause of the drought, Dong told the People's Daily.  Areas south of the Yangtze River as far as Vietnam have been affected by high temperatures since July, which would be very difficult to blame on the Three Gorges, he said.

The bureau explained that recent typhoons had cut off precipitation from the south.  Meanwhile, sub-tropical high pressure was blocking cold air from the north.  The two factors isolated Sichuan and Chongqing and prevented rain from descending on the region.

Gao Yanghua, the director of the Chongqing Urban Meteorology Researching Center, also said that the Three Gorges project had little influence on the serious drought.

"It is mainly caused by the atmospheric circulation issue, together with global warming," Gao said.

He said that a cloud-seeding program would be launched at any time. "During these weeks we have created artificial rainfall several times," he said,  "but it can only alleviate the drought in some small regions for a short time."

The drought in western and central China is the worst in 50 years and had wrought RMB 11.74 bln (USD 1.47 bln) in damages and caused total crop failure on 311,300 hectares of land as of Thursday, Xinhua reported.

It has not rained in Chongqing for more than 70 days and recent temperatures have soared to 42 degrees Celsius. Fire engines have been used to transport drinking water to the most seriously affected areas.

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