Water authorities in Hubei province announced plans Wednesday to close the middle reaches of the Yangtze River due to drought conditions in central China, state media reported. The Yangtze River waterway bureau said it needed to close the river to traffic to prevent ships from bottoming out in unusually low waters between the cities of Wuhan and Yueyang. More than 700 ships have already run aground in the Yangtze since April 30. Although the sluice gates of the Three Gorges Dam have been partially opened to let more water flow downstream, shallow water will continue to slow shipping until June. At present the water level at the dam is already so low that power generation is difficult. Approximately 400,000 people in Hubei are without drinking water because of the drought and 870,000 hectares of farmland have been damaged by it. “Even though heavy rains are expected in coming months, it’s possible they won’t raise the water level much along the Yangtze River,” said Wu Heping, director of the waterway management department in Wuhan.