Water Transfers in China

Several water transfer schemes have been already implemented in Songhua River basin. Many more are yet to come, since reallocation of water resources is at the heart of China’s water management practice.

New, alarming water transfer projects were proposed in 2003-2006 by the Song-Liao Water Resource Commission (SWRC), one of China’s seven basin management authorities, and the national authority for the Amur-Heilong basin in China.

One proposal would "sustain" Dalai Lake water levels in Dauria, which, during the current drought period, are rapidly dropping, as they have done many times throughout history. Torey Lakes in the adjacent Uldz River basin in Russia have a very similar hydrological cycle and go dry on average of once every 50 years. There are no plans to “stabilize” them. Oscillating lakes generally support higher fisheries productivity than do lakes with stable water levels, providing that the range of water level variation is held within certain limits. Although ecosystem responses are well documented by researchers working in Daursky Zapovednik, questions regarding changes in productivity and resilience of freshwater ecosystems in different phases of drought cycles require additional study

Hailaer-Dalai project theme is “environmental safety”, but the design was influenced by concerns for the short-term protection of fisheries and urban/industrial water-supply. The proposed project, for which an EIA was approved in early 2006, calls for diverting more than 1 km3 annually from Hailar River (the upstream name for the Argun-Erguna River) into Dalai lake. If implemented, this would severely damage large transboundary floodplain wetlands on both sides of the middle Argun River, and might also have severe implications on water pollution and border delineation issues.

Another project calls for inter-basin water transfer from Khalkh (Halaha) River (draining into Dalai and Buir lakes) into Huolin River (draining into Songhua River basin).

The key environmental concern is that regional lakes and lacustrine wetlands are adapted to much wider variations in flow and water levels than are the Argun River and surrounding wetlands. The key environmental policy concern is that if Mongolia diverts the Kherlen River and Onon Rivers into the Gobi desert and China diverts the Haila’er to Dalai Lake, this would preclude any future opportunity to harmonize water management and biodiversity conservation in the upper Amur-Heilong basin and would reinforce unsustainable and uncoordinated water development in the region.

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