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Experts call for better integration of Yangtze hydro projects

15 May 2013
The 11 hydropower projects on the upper reaches of the Yangtze, completed or still under construction, are making shipping conditions very difficult, experts are saying, according to China Water Transport newspaper on 14 May. They are calling for a national integrated schedule for storing and releasing cycles of all hydropower projects to ensure safe shipping in the long term.

The Xiluodu hydropower project is the largest of four in the Jinsha River, another name for the upper reaches of the Yangtze and the second largest in China after the Three Gorges hydropower station. It started its first storing cycle to a water level of 540 metres on 4 May. Situated about 160km downstream is Xiangjiaba, the third largest hydropower project in China. It will start its first ever storing cycle to a water level of 370 metres on 21 June. This will lead to a reduction in water volumes in the 380km stretch between Yibing and Chongqing, experts say.

The Yangtze trunkline officially starts in Yibing, at the confluence of the Jinsha and Min rivers. Before the dams were constructed, water volumes would start to increase in mid April, leading up to the flood season in July. Since 2005, the central government has spent Rmb350m on dredging projects on the stretch between Yibing and Chongqing to make shipping safe. By 2011, the Yangtze Waterway Bureau upgraded its maintenance standards by guaranteeing a minimum water level of 3.2 metres in May.

Data collected by Chongqing Yangtze Waterway Research Institute show that the combined water volumes from the Jinsha and Min rivers is now around 2,500 cubic metres per second, similar to during the dry season and far short of 3,200 cubic metres required to maintain a minimum water level of 3.2 metres between Yibing and Chongqing.

“The deficiency in water volumes is making waterway maintenance [at this time of the year] impossible,” Deng Qianhuan, head of shipping channels at the Yangtze Waterway Bureau, was quoted as saying. He acknowledged that the guaranteed minimum water level had already been revised down to 3 metres, though this required extra vigilance on the part of waterway officials in checking the constantly changing water volumes, readjusting warning signs and deploying three dredgers at major trouble spots.

Judging from the schedule of the two hydropower projects, Mr Deng said that the dry season for the 380km stretch would extend to July.

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