Hailaer-Dalai Water Transfer Project, Associated Reservoirs and Their Impacts

The purpose of the project is to divert water from the Hailaer River to Dalai Lake, which is in danger of drying up due to the region’s current drought. An initial Environmental Impact Assessment was done in for the project in 2005, and appears to have been done only symbolically to secure a green light for the project. Reports and satellite imagery show that as of May 2009 construction on the canal is already 50% completed!

The Hailaer River flows from east to west before making a sharp turn to the northeast about 20 km north of Dalai Lake, at which point the Hailaer River becomes the Ergun, or Argun, River to form the China-Russia border as it flows toward the Amur. The proposed canal is designed to divert 30%, or approximately approximately 1 km? of the river’s already dwindling flow south to Dalai Lake each year. The canal’s actual flow capacity is 70-96 m?/sec, and the average flow of the Hailaer (Ergun-Argun) River at the canal site is only 117 m?/sec, meaning the canal can potentially divert a much greater percentage of the river volume than the proposed 30%.

Dalai Lake’s water level has been on the decline since 2001, primarily due to low rainfall. Official justification for diverting this exhorbitant proportion of the Hailaer River into the lake cites that the canal will protect the lake ecosystem from the «negative impacts» of these low rainfall years. In particular, the canal is expected to curb salinization in the lake, reduce the growth of invasive aquatic plants, and prevent desertification of the outlying grasslands. Canal proponents also expect the higher water levels to help replenish the lake’s diminishing fish stocks and attract a steady influx of ecotourists who might not travel to the area if the lake water remains low.

In addition to replenishing the lake, the diverted water will be used for irrigation and agricultural needs, and 12% will supply the needs of Manzhouli City, a major border crossing for Russia and China. This water is earmarked for a number of other uses not listed in the press, including use by other nearby settlements and mining companies operating in the region. In other words, the official objective of stabilizing Dalai Lake’s water level may well be completely misleading.

The project also calls for the construction of several multi-purpose water reservoirs upstream from the canal on the major Hailaer River tributaries, like Honghuaerji Reservoir on the Yimin River, Zhaluomude Reservoir on the Hailaer, etc. These several reservoirs have a combined capacity to divert another 1.4 km? of water, completely cutting off flood peaks further downstream.

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