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Waters and water management

Amur-Heilong Between Dykes
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In China the traditional basis for river management in the catchment is construction of embankments (dykes) along both banks of rivers to contain flood waters.  The strips of former floodplain are farmed because they are among the more fertile regional soils.  This is true mainly because of the many annual small floods that formerly delivered sediments containing nutrients and organic matter (in pre-dyke times).  The dykes block this natural process by confining the floodwaters to the embanked river channels and preventing deposition of sediments on the former floodplain.  The consequences are alkalinization of soils, as well as severe impacts to wetland hydrology and ecology, and to the people who depend upon wetlands for food, energy, and materials.  Flood control measures in China are heavily biased toward construction of dykes to contain riverine floods and dams to temporarily store them.  There were more than 16,000 km of embankments in the Songhua River Basin alone in China by 2000
Following the environmental crisis caused by the 1998 flood, there is a new awareness among policy makers of alternative measures to reduce natural disasters in favor of sustainable development.  After the 1998 floods the government of China issued the so-called “32-Character Policy” prescribing a comprehensive approach to flood management: reforestation of river sources and slopes, abandonment of flood-prone areas and reestablishment of water-detention wetlands.  Implementation has been slow due to many factors among which high population densities on the floodplains is preeminent.  While reforestation efforts in the China portion of the Amur-Heilong basin are well underway, floodplain restoration has only begun.
Dyke construction along rivers in Russia is mainly to protect settlements and industrial infrastructure, and is on a much smaller scale than in China.  This is due to Russia’s lower population density and large expanses of arable land above the floodplains.  However, similar to China, the approach to flood management in Russia has been biased toward structures.
The China-Russia border follows river courses for several thousand kilometers and where natural riverbed processes are intensified by wide variations in seasonal flows and the annual cycle of freeze and thaw.  Embankments and other engineering works in these reaches cause a range of international issues.  For example, among authorities in Russia’s Amursky Province it is widely held that construction of embankments on the right bank of the river (in China) significantly contributed to subsequent flooding and erosion in Russia.  As yet there is no mutually accepted transboundary practice to resolve disputes arising from this type of claim.  Rivers naturally change course over time by meandering across their floodplains.

In the Amur-Heilong River basin, as in most boundary river basins, this natural process often raises the issue of national sovereignty.  The point at which the Argun River enters Russia is an example of troubled area.  Here authorities of Russia’s Chita Region appealed to the federal government in Moscow to invest in embankments to avoid the potential loss of 55 km2 of land area to China. 
However, if Russia were to adopt the same policies and methods as China, construction of embankments on both sides would greatly increase the frequency and severity of catastrophic floods in the future.  As long as China continues to employ engineering solutions to water management on the south bank of the Amur-Heilong River, the only option for Russia is to adopt a non-symmetrical response, including use of vast floodplain wetlands as flood detention basins while trying to agree with China more coordinated approaches for future action.  The latter approaches have the benefit of being less expensive to implement.

Border countries should also acknowledge a simple fact that this great river will not stop changing its course after all current border issues between countries are resolved.  If policies for future border delineation and international practice to resolve disputes do not fully account for natural river processes, this will result in additional tensions, unnecessary expenditures and further damage to the river ecosystem.

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


New embankement at Chinese bank of Mutnaya and Prorva Channels confluence in Argun River basin (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

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

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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