Water levels on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River have risen in the past few days after the release of water from the Three Gorges Dam.
Poyang Lake in Jiangxi province, China's largest freshwater lake, which was almost dried up a week ago, now contains some water thanks to the release of water and rainfall this week, farmers said.
However, it was too early to say whether the drought had broken, with sunny weather forecast along most of the river and the amount of water available for drought mitigation that is stored behind the Three Gorges Dam running out.
Xinhua, citing dam administration officials, reported on Thursday that four-fifths of the 22 billion cubic metres of regulated storage in the Three Gorges' reservoir has been consumed since its first release of water to counter the effects of the drought on May 7. The rest would be used up before June 10 if water flow along the Yangtze's upper reaches did not improve, it said.
Controversy has surrounded the Three Gorges Dam, with many blaming it for the drought which started to plague the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze from the beginning of the year.
'The Three Gorges Dam has blocked out our water,' said Li Shijiao , a farmer in Hukou county's Yangjiagang village, which lies beside Poyang Lake. Much of the lake has been grown into a vast grassland due to continuous dry weather.
'We haven't had any rainfall this year until the rain two days ago,' she said, adding that the water level in the lake had risen only slightly since then.
Although part of the lake is once again covered by water, grass can be seen in it, a testament to the prolonged dry spell.
However, Zhang Boting, deputy secretary general of the China Society for Hydropower Engineering, said the drought might even be worse without the Three Gorges Dam. He said the mainland should build more reservoirs to enhance its ability to fight floods and droughts.
'There are many reservoirs in the world that are a dozen times larger than the Three Gorges, and they have not led to any natural disaster so far,' he said. 'The only way to improve our ability to fight floods or droughts is to enlarge the total volume of reservoirs.'
Xia Qing, an environmentalist involved in the South-North Water Diversion Project, said it was unfair to say the dam was the major factor behind the drought 'because it has not changed distribution of rainfall, but how water is distributed in the four seasons'.
The worst drought in five decades has affected most parts of central China, including the provinces of Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi and Anhui.
The entire ecology of the wetland system in Hubei's Hong Lake area has been damaged and will take at least 10 years to recover, People's Daily reported yesterday.
In Anhui, more than 200 small reservoirs have dried up, and total storage in all of the province's water facilities is 30 per cent lower than usual years, Xinhua reported.
The drought has threatened grain output in Anhui, a leading grain producer, with more than 1.3 million hectares of paddy fields and other crops affected.