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Three Gorges shiplocks suspended due to flooding

25 July 2012
The Yangtze River Administration under the Ministry of Transport issued an emergency circular on 22 July which announced the suspension of operations at the Three Gorges Dam shiplocks until further notice in anticipation of the biggest storm in the Yangtze region this year.

According to the circular, the water level at the Three Gorges Reservoir reached 156.82 metres at 8am on 22 July and water levels immediately downstream in the middle reaches at Chenglingji, Wuhan, Jiujiang, Anqing and Wuhu were all above the flood alert line.

Heavy rains in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River caused water to pour in at a rate of 71,200 cubic metres per second into the dam’s reservoir at 8pm on 24 July. This raised the water level to nearly 160 metres, according to China Three Gorges Corp.

The number of vessels gathered at the shiplocks, both going downstream and upstream, stood at nearly 700 by the time the emergency circular was issued. The task of managing the increasing number of stranded vessels and the flood itself is so challenging, the circular said, that no senior managers should leave their posts during this flood season for business or leisure purposes without the written consent from the administration.

About 500 vessels were finally dispersed on 17 July after an earlier flood caused the No.1 shiplock of Gezhouba Dam to stop operation.

The Cuntan section of the Yangtze in Chongqing municipality witnessed the most flooding since 1981, according to the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters. By Tuesday, floods had forced the evacuation of about 216,000 residents in Sichuan and Chongqing.

Flooding has impacted the lives of millions of people living on the banks of the Yangtze for hundreds of years until the Three Gorges Dam was completed in summer 2009. Today, the water level is manipulated over the course of the year to take account of fluctuating rainfall patterns. The level is reduced to 145 metres at the end of May or the beginning of June and maintained at that level until the end of September. From October, the dam stores flood water by raising the water level up to 175 metres and keeping it at that level until the end of December. After January, the water is released to ease conditions during the dry season until the reservoir is ready for the flood season once again.

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