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Water Level of Yangtze Lowest for 140 Years

The Yangtze, China's longest river, is suffering from a severe drought this year with water levels in some areas falling to record lows.

On Jan 8, the water level at Hankou plunged to 13.98 m, the lowest since records began in 1866, the Wuhan-based Changjiang Times reported yesterday.

Li Changmin, a farmer from Jianli in Hubei Province, who has lived beside the river all her life, said this was the most serious drought she has ever seen.

On a small patch of riverbed where the water had receded, Li planted garlic, some of which has grown to 10 cm tall in two months.

Covering the garlic with straw to protect it from the low temperatures, she said she is not worried her crops being submerged.

"It will take at least a few months for the water to reach here," she said.

"This year's drought is rare. Just days ago, I saw ship after ship running aground. I have never seen that before."

Since October, more than 40 ships have been grounded in the main course of the Yangtze, which stretches 6,300 km and is the major channel for inland river shipping.

The Ministry of Communications issued an emergency warning on December 5 to remind cargo ships to avoid shallow waters.

On December 10, Minister of Communications Li Shenglin and Vice-Minister Xu Zuyuan went to investigate the reasons why a ship became grounded in the Yaojian section in the middle reaches of the Yangtze.

"It is the first time that such a situation has attracted so much attention from the central government," an official with the administration, who asked not to be named, said.

There are 16 sections of river where the water becomes very shallow in the dry season between November and April, increasing the risk of ships running aground, the official said.

While the river administration has procedures for dealing with ships running aground, the situation is considered especially serious this year.

"This year's dry season came a month earlier than usual and water levels fell sooner than expected," the official said.

As for explaining the falling water levels, the river administration said there was less rainfall in the upper reaches of the Yangtze last year, leading to the most serious drought in autumn in five decades.

Also, large amounts of water were stored at the Three Gorges Dam last month, which caused the flow volume in the river to fall 50 percent. But the Yangtze River Water Resource Commission said the drought has nothing to do with the dam.

"The lack of rain is the major reason for the drying-up of the Yangtze," the commission said.

(China Daily January 17, 2008)

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