China is making efforts to reduce power shortages and bring more water to the drought-stricken Yangtze River basin while fighting a record-breaking heat wave by seeding clouds, deploying relief funds and developing new sources of supply.
For more than two months, baking temperatures have disrupted crop growth, threatened livestock and forced industries in the hydropower-dependent regions of the Southwest to shut down to ensure electricity supplies for homes.
China has repeatedly warned that it will face an increase in extreme weather events in the coming years as it tries to adapt to climate change and rising temperatures that are likely to be more severe than elsewhere.
The current extreme heat is likely to be the result of a “special case” of high pressure from the western Pacific that spans much of Asia, said Cai Wenju, a researcher at CSIRO, Australia’s national scientific research institute.
The heat wave in China lasted 64 days, making it the longest since full recording began in 1961, state media said, citing data from the National Climate Center. High temperatures are expected to persist in the Sichuan Basin and large parts of central China until August 26.
On Wednesday, China’s southwestern Sichuan province said it would ration power to homes, offices and shopping malls after it ordered producers of energy-intensive metals and fertilizers to curb operations.
In what appears to be an official call to cut electricity consumption, government offices were asked not to turn air conditioners below 26C (79F) and to use stairs instead of elevators, the Sichuan Daily said.
Fountains, light shows and commercial activities after dark should be suspended, it added.
On Wednesday, central Hubei province unveiled its latest attempt to induce rainfall, sending planes to fire the chemical silver iodide into the clouds.
Other regions on the Yangtze have also launched ‘cloud seeding’ programs, but with too thin clouds, operations in some parched areas have remained on standby.
Power shortages have also led several companies in the vast Chongqing region, bordering Sichuan, to say they would halt production.
China’s Deputy Prime Minister Han Zheng visited the state grid company on Wednesday and said further efforts were needed to ensure power supply to residents and key industries and avoid power outages, according to a state media report.
China should accelerate projects to improve power load management and promote joint operation of coal and renewable energy, Han said.
Hydropower accounts for about 80% of Sichuan’s energy capacity, but declining water flows on the Yangtze and its tributaries have led to a struggle to meet increasing air conditioning demand as temperatures soared to 40°C and above.
Average rainfall in Sichuan is 51% less than in previous years, according to state news agency Xinhua, which quoted the provincial branch of the state network.
Some reservoirs have dried up after the water from the major rivers has decreased by as much as half.
Droughts in the Yangtze River Basin also “adversely impacted” drinking water for rural residents and livestock, as well as crop growth, the ministry of water resources said in a statement.
It urged drought-stricken regions to make plans to maintain water supplies with measures such as temporary water transfer, development of new wells and pipeline expansion.
To boost downstream supply, China’s largest hydropower project, the Three Gorges dam, will increase water discharges by 500 million cubic meters over the next 10 days, it said Tuesday. Water flow there this week was about half that of a year earlier.
Some of the livestock from drought-stricken areas had been temporarily relocated, the Treasury Department said this week, promising disaster relief of 300 million yuan ($44 million).