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Drought-hit Yangtze sees shipping wiped off the map

Chongqing: So desperate is the parched nature of the upper Yangtze river that the government is seriously considering seeding clouds to force rain as navigation along the upper reaches from Chongqing is currently virtually impossible.

Normally, July and August are the peak months of the flood season. But in 2006, only half as much water as usual arrived from the upper reaches in July, and there were no floods at all in August, the Guangzhou Daily reported.

Hydrological monitoring stations along the Yangtze below the Three Gorges, including Yichang, Zhicheng, Shashi and Shishou, reported historically low water levels by mid-August. In November, the section of the river in Jiangxi province experienced the lowest water levels in half a century.

On January 3 this year, the river section that passes through Shashi in Hubei province was at its lowest level in 142 years.

For 2006 as a whole, the Yichang monitoring station recorded total run-off of 284.4 billion cubic metres, the smallest volume ever reported since hydrological record-keeping began there in 1877.

A drought-stricken Yangtze is causing major navigation problems, also in the middle and lower reaches of the river. Boats, especially those laden with coal coming down from the Three Gorges reservoir area, have become stranded due to the low water level. Normally, these boats need a water depth of 4.2 metres -- and 3.8 metres at the very least -- but some sections of the river below the Three Gorges dam are only 2.9 metres deep.

Some people are warning that drought in the Yangtze valley could become routine, rather than a rare event as the full effects of the Three Gorges Dam become realized. Yangtze shipping traffic accounts for two thirds of Shanghai's throughput, allowing it to be the largest port in the world.  [28/02/07]

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