Three Gorges Probe

Three Gorges navigation woes set to worsen

Kelly Haggart and Mu Lan – Three Gorges Probe news service
August 14, 2006

The delays that have plagued boats trying to get around the Three Gorges dam are set to worsen soon when one-half of the two-way shiplock is taken out of service for more than nine months.

A chamber of the five-step shiplock

The partial closure of the shiplock is scheduled to begin in mid-September and continue until the end of June 2007, Xinhua reports. The five-step shiplock raises vessels to the higher water level in the reservoir behind the dam or lowers them to the river downstream.

The Three Gorges reservoir is due to be raised a further 17 metres after the current flood season, when it will go from 139 to 156 metres above sea level. After the reservoir is raised, the south (downstream) side of the shiplock will be drained to allow construction work on the structure to be completed. With the shiplock’s traffic-handling capacity cut in half, vessels going in both directions will have to use the one lane that normally only handles ships going upstream.

The north lane of the shiplock was closed for six hours on Aug. 11 to allow inspection and maintenance work to be carried out in advance of the planned closure of the other lane, China Water Transportation News (Zhongguo shuiyun bao) reports.

Measures are being introduced to maintain order on the river during the prolonged disruption to navigation ahead, Xinhua says. For example, rescue centres will be set up at 18-kilometre intervals in the reservoir behind the dam, and every nine kilometres in the river downstream, to respond quickly to shipping emergencies. Two powerful rescue boats will also be stationed at two critical places Ð near the dam on the upstream side, and downstream at the narrow Nanjin Pass below the dam.

Improving navigation on the Yangtze River was cited as a chief justification for building the Three Gorges dam, but so far the shiplock has proved to be a bottleneck on the busy waterway.

Now, in an apparent effort to relieve some of the pressure on the shiplock, the Three Gorges Project Corp. has decided to build a highway from the dam site to the city of Yichang, China News Service reports. The 57-kilometre, 3.6-billion-yuan (US$450-million) road will run from the port of Maoping just upstream of the dam to the Yangtze Bridge at Yichang, and connect with the Chengdu-Shanghai national highway system.

The plan for the new highway appears to confirm the concerns expressed by many, including local governments and shipping companies, that the shiplock is able to handle much less freight than its designers anticipated or project authorities promised.

Sichuan geologist Fan Xiao has described the onerous water-land-water journey that some cargo shipments must be sent on to get around the dam. And he wondered whether “some freight will have to be moved overland around the dam on a permanent basis, and the shiplock of the Three Gorges dam will turn out to be a transport bottleneck on the upper reaches of the Yangtze forever.”

The south side of the shiplock (on the right in this photo), used by boats heading downstream, is to be closed next month until the end of June 2007.

Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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