Mar. 23, 2023

Adjustment Capacity of Three Gorges is Reduced; Resevoir May Run Out of Water

May 27, 2011

Key notes:

In recent days, an unseasonal drought hitting the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River basin has drawn ongoing public attention to the Three Gorges Dam Project. But this time, instead of arguing over whether the Three Gorges Dam Project should be blamed for spurring the catastrophe, public attention seems to be more focused on the dam’s capacity to withstand the drought.

According to authorities from the Three Gorges Construction Administration, the reservoir will experience severe water scarcity if it does not receive runoff or large-scale heavy rain soon.

Current Status:      

The water level in the Three Gorges Reservoir has dropped to 152 meters.

In six days it has given out 1.2 billion cubic meters of water; the downstream water level has visibly risen.            

As of May 26, the Three Gorges reservoir water level had dropped to 152 meters from 154 meters in six consecutive days.           

200 million cubic meters of water is released each day to relieve the drought in downstream areas.

"The Three Gorges Reservoir had an original water reserve of about 1.2 billion cubic meters, which has now been totally released downstream to raise the water levels of the middle and lower Yangtze River. This eased water stress in Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi and other urban and rural places along the river by providing water supply and irrigation,” said Zhao Yun, deputy chief engineer of the Three Gorges Reservoir Cascade Dispatch and Communication Center. Based on his calculations, the Three Gorges provides about 200 million cubic meters of water to fight the drought per day.         

Changjiang Water Resources Commission’s hydrological monitoring data shows that in the past few days, the water has risen in different amounts at stations in Hubei, Hunan, and Jiangxi Province. 

Adjustment capacity of the Three Gorges will be exhausted  

In the face of the heavy drought, the Three Gorges Reservoir launched a drought emergency operation for the first time this year. Daily average discharge has repeatedly increased, from about 7,000 cubic meters per second on May 7 to  11,000 cubic meters per second on May 26. 

Zheng Shouren, a scholar and main designer of the Three Gorges Dam Project, said that fighting drought is one of the functions of the Three Gorges.         

According to the original design, The Three Gorges Reservoir has a normal water level of 175 meters by the end of the flood season, which provides continuing support to the lower reaches of the river during the dry season, and ensures the shipping and water demands in the middle and lower reaches of the river. By the beginning of the next year’s flood season, when the water level in the reservoir has dropped to around 145 meters, the reservoir shifts into flood prevention stage; it can store between 145 and 175 billion cubic meters in order to mitigate the effects of floods.

Wang Hai, administrative director for the construction and management section of the Three Gorges Multipurpose Project, said that the water level of the reservoir had already dropped to 152 meters. Four-fifths of the water has been consumed while the remaining one-fifth will be used up before June 10. According to reports, if there has not been a rise in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River by June 10, and the middle and lower reaches have not experienced large-scale heavy rainfall by then, the Three Gorges reservoir will most likely face a “no water” situation.


Translated by: Jin Wen
Proofread by: Tao Shuang and Pierre Thompson
Edited by: Madelyn Finucane

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