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Waters and water management

A River Between - Environmental Perspective on water management
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Water management policy in all three countries in the Amur-Heilong River basin is based on different premises and approaches and the policy is largely unsustainable.
The most obvious and immediate threat is from a series of water transfers planned for the already water-deficient Upper Amur Basin (Kherlen, Onon, Argun/Haila’er Rivers).  The potential consequences of these transfers are not predictable because the transfers have been in adequately studied.  We are reasonably sure that even modest water transfers will threaten globally important wetland ecosystems, water sources and probably even boundary demarcation in the area where the Argun River forms the China-Russia border.  Impacts would be obvious within two to five years once the periodic water transfers begin.
In contrast to these aggressive water transfer schemes, a more appropriate use of the Upper Amur-Heilong would be to test international cooperation in adapting water use and conservation measures for large ecosystems characterized by periodic droughts.
The key, long-term threat to the ecosystem is tapping into main channel water resources to alleviate the growing water crisis in the southwest portion of the basin and adjacent river basins.  This is driven mainly by China’s inability to reverse unsustainable patterns of resource use and by Russia’s willingness to increase exports of natural resources to serve China's growing needs.  Such a move will spread the water crisis now unfolding in neighboring China basins (Liao, Yellow and Huai Rivers) to the Amur-Heilong Basin.
Hydropower development in the main stem of the Amur-Heilong River will move the basin toward this scenario and this development will catastrophically alter the basin ecosystem.
Development of additional hydroelectric dams on yet untapped tributaries in Russia will massively degrade the basin's ecosystem and will cause a decline in biological productivity and biodiversity.  Development is driven by Russia's intent to export unlimited volumes of natural resource to China.  China supports this approach since it has limited interest in unilaterally developing large-scale hydropower.
The lack of cooperation between countries and the highly technocratic mode of this cooperation when it does occur raises increases the risks from the most negative development scenarios.  There are no joint environmental agencies, research institutions, or environmental databases for the Amur-Heilong River basin.  Common approaches are restricted to such highly destructive joint development documents such as the "Joint Comprehensive Scheme for Water Resource Management of Transboundary Parts of Argun and Amur-Heilong Rivers".
Current policies on flood-prevention and river-bank development largely neglect natural river ecosystem processes.  The result is ever greater losses of important habitats and natural systems and greater investments in water infrastructure that often fail during catastrophic floods.  New and more environmentally oriented thinking has emerged in China and Russia to manage land-use in river basins that are frequently flooded.  And although this new thinking is present at senior management levels, it is slow to enter the arena of international relations and the two governments continue to use outdated river management solutions in transboundary locations.  Unless Russia and China agree to a common strategy to manage floods and meandering river channels, the current pattern of unsustainable development is likely to persist.  And the most likely outcome is increased damage from catastrophic floods along the main channel where ecosystem values will continue to decline as new embankments are erected.  This will lead to new demands for larger dams to control floods.  The ultimate economic cost of an engineering-led development scenario is likely to be higher than that of cooperative, non-structural options.

Map collection:

Climate, waters and water management



Simplified hydrography of Amur River basin (Basemap)

Detailed hydrography of Amur River basin

Wetlands of Amur

Water infrastructure: dams and water transfers

PDF document: Songhua River pollution maps in PDF (ADB 2005)



Amur river system

Water management

Water pollution


GIS: Amur hydrography, wetlands and water infrastructure


Memorials to major flood-fighting are common along Songhua river. Qiqihaer City. (Photo by E.Simonov)

Also look:

Western rivers of headwaters of Amur-Heilong River Basin

Eastern tributaries in Amur-Heilong River Basin

Lakes and reservoirs of Amur-Heilong River Basin

Lakes of Western Amur-Heilong River Basin

Lakes of Eastern Amur-Heilong River Basin

Water infrastructure in the Amur-Heilong River Basin

Dam development in Russia

Water management and dams in China

Water Transfers in China

Water transfers and wells in Mongolia

Development of dykes

Case Study on international planning: "Joint Comprehensive Scheme on Amur and Argun Rivers"

Is there enough water?

WCD lessons for Amur

Water pollution conundrum


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