China’s Three Gorges Dam nears maximum levels

The water level in China’s Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze river are inching closer to their maximum after torrential rains raised inflows to a record high.

With 75,000 cubic metres per second of water flowing in from the Yangtze River on Thursday, the reservoir’s depth had reached 165.6 metres.

The maximum designed depth of China’s largest reservoir is 175 metres.

Authorities raised the discharge volume to a record 48,800 cubic metres per second on Thursday to try and lower water levels, and they might have to increase it again to avoid the possibility of a dangerous overflow.

Rainfall in the Yangtze basin has been well over double the seasonal average this year. Up to last week, 63 million people had been affected by flooding, which had caused nearly 180 billion yuan ($26bn) in economic damage.

The Three Gorges, completed in 2012, was designed not only to generate power but also to reduce the risk of flooding from the Yangtze, the cause of many devastating floods throughout China’s history.

China’s giant hydroelectric dams have stored more than 100 billion cubic metres of floodwater this year, and shielded 18.5 million residents from evacuation, according to government figures. The Three Gorges project alone has cut downstream floodwaters by 34 percent, officials said.

But opponents say the flood control capability of the Three Gorges Dam is limited, and it could even make the problem worse in the long term.