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Yangtze Hydro Projects to Get a Boost

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China will boost the use of the hydroelectric resources along the Yangtze River in the coming decades despite increasing oppositions, according to a strategic development plan of the river unveiled by the Ministry of Water Resources on Monday.

By 2020, about 50 percent of the hydropower resources of China's longest river will be utilized.

The ratio is expected to reach 60 percent by 2030, Cai Qihua, director of the Yangtze Water Resources Committee, affiliated with the ministry, told the 3rd Yangtze Forum opened in Shanghai on Monday.

"Only 36 percent of Yangtze's hydropower resources was exploited until now. The level is much lower than that of other rivers in China and abroad," Cai said.

Hydro projects will be developed on the tributaries in upper reaches of the Yangtze, including Yalong, Dadu, and Wujiang rivers, which are abundant with the hydroelectric resources, the plan says.

The use of the river water will be well managed, Cai said.

By 2020, no more than 25 percent of the Yangtze River's water resources should be utilized for agricultural irrigation and industrial purposes.

The rate will be brought under 30 percent by 2030, according to the plan, the current rate being 17.8 percent.

However, construction of water conservation projects, such as the Three Gorges Dam, the south-to-north water diversion project, and the cascade hydropower plants, are also posing threats to the ecology of the Yangtze River.

A recent study by Chinese Academy of Sciences recorded the worsening water quality at reservoir areas of the Three Gorges Dam, as well as loss of fishing resources.

"Rivers are among the most threatened ecosystems on the planet," said James Leape, director general of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International, citing an example of the ill-planned damming in the Mississippi River.

"China still has time to think through the consequences to ensure that rivers like the Yangtze are healthy enough," Leape said.

The exploitation of hydropower resources should be based on comprehensive research of the Yangtze River's whole basin, instead of focusing on individual projects, Li Lifeng, director of freshwater project at WWF International, told China Daily.

Hu Siyi, vice-minister of water resources, has also urged that hydro projects and water dispatching system along the Yangtze River be operated together.

China boasts the world's greatest hydropower resources with a theoretical potential of 540 million kilowatts.

National Energy Administration has set the target to increase the installed hydropower capacity at 300 million kilowatts by 2020. The capacity reached 172 million kilowatts at the end of last year.

(China Daily April 21, 2009)

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