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Is there enough water?
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Amur-Heilong River basin countries have different histories and patterns of water use shaped by cultures that evolved in different natural environments.  Differences in water use between neighboring nations have profound impacts on how they treat other common resources and environments in shared river basins.

Table:    Selected nation-wide freshwater statistics of Amur-Heilong River basin countries [2000-3 data of FAO and EIA (GEO database of the United Nations)]





Available freshwater resources (km3)




Water use total (km3)




Water use per person (m3/person)




Share of agriculture in water use (percent)




Percent of population with improved drinking water supply




Catch of freshwater aquatic organisms (metric tons)




Hydropower supply: 1000 tons of oil equivalent




The Amur-Heilong River system is both blessed and doomed as a country divider.  Most of the Amur-Heilong Basin is two different areas where thinking and policies on water management are developed independently and according to national priorities in Russia and China.  The third part is distinct from China and Russia, and lies in the naturally water-deficient Mongolia.  The fundamental problem is that the Amur-Heilong basin is but one natural system and has few remaining capacities to withstand further independent experiments in "water management" by three neighboring nations.  The long term crisis is that there is not enough water to support uncoordinated development.

The Songhua River is not usually considered critically depleted in comparison with the Yellow, Liao or Huai Rivers.  It does, however, show all the prerequisites for the development of a water crisis similar to these basins.  Average annual Songhua River natural discharge into the Amur-Heilong River is approximately 80 km3 and total available water resources are about 96 km3.  Water use data in 2003 show nearly 40 percent of total Songhua River discharge.  The more important point is that total water withdrawal in the basin is nearly equal to average river flow in a dry year (36,85 cubic km. or so called 95% availability – low flow volume occurring once in 20 years).  Chinese data also indicate that from an overall withdrawal/supply, 53 percent of the supplied water was used entirely at its point of use and only 47 percent was returned to the stream with wastewater.  This is evident in low water years when 2.5-4 km3 deficits occur.  Water shortage is already a key issue in many sectors, including agriculture that consumes most water and municipal needs.  These demands threaten sustained flow, key to environmental processes.  Water demand is likely to increase rapidly given the rapid pace of economic development and the demands for irrigation.  According to ADB, the total water demand in the Songhua River basin will reach 45.5 km3 in 2020, a net increase of over 14 km3 from 2006

The water supply situation in the Russian portion of the basin is very different from that in China.  Water is plentiful and demand is minimal (less than 3 percent of that in the Songhua basin).  Water use does not exceed 2.3 percent of available resources in the most water deficient winter season.  Main water users are industries and households.  Despite the abundance of water in Russia, ecological flows have been disrupted and shortages are evident, especially for fisheries and floodplain wetlands.  This is an impact from the Zeya and Bureya dams that reduce flood peaks and thus reduce flood frequency in many wetlands.  This is a common issue on the floodplains of the Zeya River and on the main stem of the Amur-Heilong River from the mouth of the Zeya to Komsomolsk in Khabarovsk region.

So far Mongolia places minimal pressure on its water resources.  This could change, however, given rapidly due to expanding mining operations and planned inter-basin water transfers.

Therefore, although the Amur has substantial untapped water resources, these resources will not last forever unless the three countries adopt a common, coordinated approach to the water management.

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


Dry Lake. Toson-hulstai nature reserve. Dornod. (Photo by Vadim Kiriliuk)

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

River between –environmental perspective on Amur water management

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"

WCD lessons for Amur

Water pollution conundrum


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