China’s Yangtze River water levels hit a record low, threatening crops

15 Aug 2022 | Cai Chen

China’s Yangtze River - one of the longest rivers in the world - is the latest major maritime artery to report navigational problems after experiencing a long drought during what is usually the traditional flood season, a report from China’s weather authority has said.

Water levels have hit their lowest level on record, while further heatwaves have been forecast over the next one or two weeks in the regions the river cuts through over the next one to two weeks, according to a report from the National Meteorological Centre on Monday.

The river winds its way through some of China's most productive regions as well, with the lack of rain continuing to threaten crop development during the key harvest period.

Temperatures in areas across four or more provincial-level regions along the Yangzte River hit 40 Celsius in the past 48 hours, the National Meteorological Observatory had said, triggering the first national temperature red alert of this year issued last week.

High temperatures have lingered in many parts of southern China since June, said Chen Lijuan, chief forecaster at the National Climate Centre, and this year “is set to become the hottest year since 1961”.

According to the Ministry of Water Resources (MWR), with the extremely high temperature and low precipitation, the water level of Yangtze mainstream and lakes in its flood basin is 4.7 to 5.7 meters lower than the average level of the year.

The prolonged drought has threatened the autumn harvest in China, as the Yangtze river basin is one of the major grain-producing regions in China, contributing nearly half of the country’s crop output, including over two-thirds of the total volume of rice.

In a drought report published by the MWR on August 11, the total acreage affected by the drought in Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Chongqing and Sichuan Provinces reached 9.67 million mu (644,667 hectares).

The area of crops affected by drought in Hefei, the capital city of Anhui province just west of the port of Shanghai, was 329,800 mu (21,987 hectares), including 322,800 mu (21,520 hectares) in light drought and 7,000 mu (467 hectares) in severe drought by August 11, according to report from the official provincial media, Anhui Daily.

In Jiangxi province, a total of 123,000 hectares of crops were affected by drought, within 8,900 hectares in total crop failure between July 15 and August 12, the state media said on Saturday.

To deal with the drought threat, China has issued a level VI emergency response for prevention in the six most severely affected provinces, and is preparing to reserve waters in 51 major reservoirs, including the Three Gorges.

At the same time, many cities are turning to artificial rainfall and precipitation enhancement, as some cloud-seeding aircrafts have been prepared in Hubei Province and are planning to start a three-month artificial rain seeding operation on Monday.