On May 26, the sun was shining brightly in Wu Han. After receiving a small amount of rain the night before, the farmland around the southern outskirts of Wu Han was already parched and cracked under the hot sun. According to the forecast it would not rain again within the following week.
Local governments along the Yangtze River organized the masses to help fight the drought and newspaper journalists reported widely about the need for water conservation equipment and tools required for disaster relief, with the aim to seek assistance from higher authorities.
However, after living on the front lines of the East Asian monsoons for thousands of years, the locals never ignore the possibility of an oncoming natural disaster at this time of year.
May 1 through October 1 is the annual flood season.
History has proven that “a flood often follows a drought”. An expert from the Yangtze River Commission expressed this worry to our reporter. Leaders of the provinces along the Yangtze River gathered at the Yangtze River Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters in Chongqing last weekend, when drought conditions were at their most serious,, to discuss flood control and drought relief issues. According to Wang Guosheng, the commander in chief of the Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters and governor of Hubei Province, “the current flood control situation is far from secure enough for us to sit back and relax and all local governments need to be more prepared for flood control.”
In 1988 a summer drought followed by a springtime drought left ditches, reservoirs, and channels empty of water, which made any large-scale agricultural efforts fruitless. These severe drought conditions were followed in late August of that year by continuous rainstorms, which created the biggest autumn Yangtze flood in history.
According to an official at the Hubei Jingzhou Flood Control Centre, “The threat of flooding has lessened since the 1980s, since we now have the Yangtze Gorges.”
Several officials from the water conservancies along the Yangtze River all frankly stated during the interview that if proper use were made of the Yangtze Gorges, pressure equivalent to the 1998 flood could be neutralized. According to these officials, the gorges are also capable of water storage for use in future drought conditions.
Last year the Yangtze River area experienced more “flood damage” than “flood control”. After the Yangtze Gorges were constructed, much of the pressure to prevent flooding along the middle section of the Yangtze River was alleviated. However, extreme weather created the new problem of inland inundation.
The main reason why the Yangtze water cannot be used to alleviate the current drought is that the water conservation equipment along the river is also designed to aid in drainage. There are nine culverts and sluice gates designed for drainage, but only one water intake pump station. The pipelines from the intake pump station do not reach under the surface of the river.
Although much of the water conservation system is new or has been updated, the main project was constructed during the 1950s and the 1960s. Much of the flood control equipment has been in need of repair for many years, and there is a severe lack of drought control equipment.
According to a water department official, “the problems with this year’s drought stem not only from a lack of Yangtze River runoff, but also from the overall low water levels and a lack of water pumping equipment.” He said that if the decisions over storage and regulation of the water in the Yangtze Gorges Reservoir had been more scientific, and the drought control equipment storage had been sufficient, the drought conditions would not have been so severe this year.
However, with the recent declaration by the State Council to “eliminate the adverse effects of the Yangtze Gorges”, it is time to calm down after all the public outcry and ask some serious questions. What kind of project have we accomplished? What kind of influence does this project have on our living environment？It is not simply a debate over whether advantages outweigh disadvantages or disadvantages outweigh advantages.
Politicized or emotional assertions regarding any large-scale water conservation project, only show a lack of positive spirit, which does nothing to solve the practical problems at hand. We need to move beyond the controversy over the “already constructed Yangtze Gorges”.
To accomplish this move forward we first need systematic collection, integration, and analysis of the data concerning changes in the drainage areas. The most important data includes information about what changes have taken place in the midstream and downstream wetland ecosystems, in the geological features of the river channel, and in the meteorological features since the completion of the Yangtze Gorges. We need to sort out which changes have been caused by the Yangtze Gorges, which changes are caused by natural factors such as climate change, and which changes are caused by human activities.
Given the influence of the Yangtze Gorges on the natural environment, economy, and society, further consideration must be given to the construction of future water conservancy projects.
However, now the most important and necessary action is the establishment of a scientific decision making mechanism for the water management system combined with better utilization of the Yangtze Gorges and all of the water conservation projects along the river.