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2022-08-17 12:13:14

In downtown Chongqing, residents are sunbathing on exposed riverbeds. In the nearby countryside, farmers fret as their fields crack and turn to dust.

As the heatwave engulfing much of China enters its third month, governments in southwest China are struggling to respond to a major drought that threatens water supplies, agriculture production, and power generation in a region famous for its rich water resources.

More than two-thirds of the southwestern megacity of Chongqing’s counties and districts have reported water storage levels 30% lower than a key safety benchmark, the municipal water resource bureau told a domestic media outlet Monday. Seven said their water levels were less than half the advised reserve level.

Officials said that 51 rivers and 24 reservoirs in Chongqing municipality have run out of water, with the brunt of the impact falling on the region’s 358,000 rural residents with inadequate water transportation infrastructure. Residents told domestic outlet Caixin that, since their wells ran dry, they can only rely on the government to bring in water from elsewhere.

One of the two major rivers running through downtown Chongqing, the Jialing, has withered under the heat. “Summer is supposed to be the flood season, but now the waterway has dried up,” Zhang, a resident who lives near the Jialing, told Sixth Tone. At least some residents took advantage of the newly expanded riverside to sunbathe, according to a widely shared post on social media network Xiaohongshu.

The dried-up bed of the Yangtze River is exposed in Yunyang County, Chongqing, Aug. 16, 2022. VCG

The dried-up bed of the Yangtze River is exposed in Yunyang County, Chongqing, Aug. 16, 2022. VCG

Residents of Chongqing’s rural areas were less sanguine, as the drought threatened summer crops. Nearly 90% of Chongqing’s counties and districts have found insufficient water content in their soil, Caixin reported.

Qin Bing, a farmer who owns two fruit gardens planted with drought-resistant dragon fruit and peaches, told Sixth Tone that he’s lost several million yuan after a month of high temperatures ravaged his crops.

“I’ve never seen a disaster like this in the more than 10 years I’ve been working in agriculture,” he said with a bitter laugh. “Right now, we’re just focused on saving the plants rather than worrying about the produce. We can’t bear to lose them all.”

The ongoing drought also poses a threat to the region’s electricity supplies, as falling water levels jeopardize hydropower generation in the southwestern province of Sichuan. On August 14, Sichuan ordered a six-day production halt affecting a number of major industrial enterprises, part of an effort to ensure it could meet the power demands of residents.

China is currently experiencing its longest sustained period of extreme high temperatures since records began in 1961, China’s National Climate Center said on Monday. Climate change experts warn that extended stretches of extreme weather may become more common in the future.

The heatwave is expected to linger into the coming weeks, according to the NCC.

Qin told Sixth Tone that the local government has already installed new facilities capable of drawing water from the Yangtze River, but he remains worried about the effect of prolonged high temperatures on his plants.

“We’ll just save as many as we can,” he said. “Even if it’s just a single one.”

Additional reporting: Li Cathy; editor: Kilian O’Donnell.

(Header image: Exposed sections of the Jialing River, Chongqing, August 17, 2022. Courtesy of Zhang)