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Modernising the Yangtze involves constant dredging activity. In order to allow larger vessels to sail on the river, the central government has stated three clear goals: deepen the lower reaches, smooth the middle reaches and extend the upper reaches. This huge task has been made more urgent by fast-growing traffic volumes and changing geomorphological features of the waterway as a consequence of the construction of major hydropower projects.

Much of the dredging activity has so far been focused on the lower reaches of the river, since this is where most of the shipping activity takes place. Following the removal of a treacherous sandbar, the guaranteed depth of the river mouth is now 10.5 metres. Current work will increase the depth here to 12.5 metres.

However, more attention is now shifting to the middle reaches due to the impact of the Three Gorges Dam on reducing river flows and changing silting patterns. As many as 1,000 workers, 100 boats and 18 dredgers are currently engaged in digging out silt in the riverbed just to maintain this section.

To complicate matters further, the cycles of storing and releasing water at the Three Gorges and Gezhouba dams, which are situated just 38km apart, have created new rapids and new hazards for passing vessels. The Yangtze Waterway Bureau is scouring the world to find available dredgers to deploy on the river.

Up-to-date and accurate information is crucial in implementing a successful dredging programme. With this in mind, an ambitious scheme is under way to build a digital network for the entire waterway, including digital mapping and real-time transfer of data to measure and profile waves, currents, discharges and sedimentation. This programme will give the authorities a full picture of the constantly changing riverbed, thus helping them to tackle troublespots in an efficient and timely manner.

More information on dredging can be found in Chapter 4 of Yangtze Transport 2008.
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