China: Drought and the Three Gorges Dam

Since September this year, China’s Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydropower scheme, has began a plan to raise its reservoir to its ideal height of 175 metres. In October, there has been severe drought in the provinces of Hunan and Jiangxi provinces along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River. On 25 October, the China three Gorges Corporation argued that there was no link between the drought and the Three Gorges project:

Zheng Shouren, Chief Engineer of the Yangtze River Water Resources Committee, said those blaming the drought in Hunan and Jiangxi solely on the Three Gorges project got a partial picture. “The drought in Hunan and Jiangxi was mainly caused by the lack of rainfall in the regions amid continuous high temperature since September,” said Zheng, who is also an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

On the same day, the discharge rate was increased to ease the drought downstream. On 28 October, CCTV reported that the discharge rate was further increased. The authority admitted that the target reservoir level of 175 metres would not be achieved this year, but insisted that the drought was not related to the Three Gorges project.

Three Gorges

Qian Gang (钱钢), a well-known Chinese journalist, has joined the debate. In a post to 1bao (壹报) on 2 November, he said:


Drought is usually caused by climate change. A few provinces, including Guangdong, experienced drought during this summer and autumn. But the large area of drought around the Yangtze River is related to the Three Gorges project. According to reports, the Three Gorges reservoir level has increased from 148m on 15 September to 170m on 24 October. This has created an unprecedented, massive artificial lake.


At the same time, water level of a few tributaries in Hunan province has decreased rapidly. Dongting Lake has dropped to the lowest level in 60 years. Fishermen and river transport are severely affected. Cities like Changsha are facing water shortages. Water level of the four major rivers in Jiangxi province have dropped near historic lows.  Poyang Lake has entered dry season 40 days earlier than normal.

He went on to criticize the authority:


The Yangtze River Water Resources Committee puts the blame on weather. The committee says that the Three Gorges project serves anti-drought purposes in the coming year. Only by storing large amount of water can the aim of providing water in next year’s dry season be achieved.


This is an irresponsible behaviour. This is like robbing a person first, then helping him to show your charitable cause. Please don’t lie to the citizens anymore. Please explain: knowing that the summer-autumn period would be a dry season for central China, why still proceed with the high-risk plan?


Why the hast decision to implement the 175m water storage scheme? The authority claimed it will “manage the relationship between flood protection, electricity generation, river traffic and water supply. But the traffic congestion and drought of the past month has disproved this claim. The related energy department, a giant state-owned firm, is only pursuing one thing: money.

This seems to echo with a commentary on Hong Kong’s Apple Daily:


The reduction in rain is indeed an important cause for the dramatic drop in water level of the lakes of Dongting and Poyang. But it is also related to the Three Gorges project. Since the start of the water storage scheme in September, the water level of downstream Yangtze has dropped rapidly. Dongting and Poyang, originally acting as storage of incoming water, become a water supply for Yangtze.


The gigantic Three Gorges project could be used to regulate water flow: stopping water during wet season and supplying water at times of drought… Unfortunately, this ideal picture cannot be realized, because the project has become a paraphernalia for interested parties.

[Picture taken from]


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