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“Revitalization Policy" - Strategic environmental assessment
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China 's new development policies and projects will have profound impacts on use of natural resources, levels of pollution, and development of transborder trade and infrastructure in the Amur-Heilong basin. In 2006, the Chinese Academy of Engineering in February released its report on "Some strategic considerations on water and land resources allocation, ecological environmental protection and sustainable development in northeast China" (CAE 2005, Full report was published in ten volumes in early 2007).



1. Assessment process and participants

2. Water resources

3. Water pollution

4. Agriculture, soils, desertification and land degradation

5. Forestry

6. Urbanization

7. Strategy Recommendations:

Our Questions regarding consequences of these recommendations for the Amur-Heilong River Basin at large.

1.Assessment process and participants

The report was prepared in 2004-2006 by the Chinese Academy of Engineering on request of China's State Council to provide scientific guidance for State policy on "Revitalizing Old Industrial Bases of the Northeast" declared in 2003. The study area covered Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang Provinces, as well as four eastern prefectures of Inner Mongolia. The study area covered 1,240,000 km2 and included 119 million people. Geographically it includes the Liao River (30 percent) and Amur-Heilong River (70 percent) basins.

The study area is not only an important industrial region but also includes China's largest timber production area, best grasslands, and largest center for grain production.

Inefficient development over many decades and rapid growth of production capacity has led to degradation of some industrial and agricultural resources and severe damage to the environment. The damage is most vividly manifested in: the exhaustion of timber resources, the degradation of grasslands, desertification and alkalinization, severe loss of black soils on arable lands, severe water pollution, drying of streams and rivers, over-exploitation of groundwater, loss of large areas of wetlands, and damage to mountain landscapes in mining regions.

The research concluded that the process of "Revitalizing Old Industrial Bases of the Northeast" will require early decisions to change means of increasing industrial production and building a resource-saving environmentally friendly society.

The research team consisted of 31 academics and 260 researchers, and was divided into 10 research groups: water resources and water supply; natural history and conditions; water and environmental protection; agriculture and land use; forest and wetland protection and forestry development; urbanization; mineral resources; mineral energy sources (coal, oil, gas); water pollution; and large water infrastructure projects. The results most relevant to the Amur-Heilong basin are summarized in the paragraphs below.


2.Water resources

Distribution of water resources is uneven across the basin. While in the Amur-Heilong River basin 5,505 m3/year of water are available per person, this drops to only 1,789 m3/year in the Songhua River basin , and, in smaller basins in Liaoning Province , to less than 500 m3/year. In border rivers the index of water use is low, ranging from 1 percent in the Argun to 16 percent in the Amur-Heilong main channel. In contrast, in the Liao River water use is 67 percent, far exceeding a sustainable level. The average water use index is 24-27.5 percent, with 70 percent consumed by agriculture, 18 percent by industry, 8 percent by city dwellers, and 4 percent by rural households. From 1980 to 2000 total water consumption increased by 50 percent.

In the Liao River basin, 16 rivers dried completely, while in the Amur-Heilong River basin, the Huolin River and 5 other tributaries of the Nen and Songhua Rivers regularly run dry before reaching their river mouths. Overexploitation of groundwater is especially evident in urban areas of Harbin and Daqing, leading to water shortages, depletion of aquifers, and even deformation of the land surface.

In 2002, wetlands of all types occupied 101,700 km2 or just over 8 percent of total land area, with 29,300 km2 of lakes and watercourses, 65,700 km2 of mires, fens and bogs, and 6,600 km2 of maritime wetlands. Of these 45,200 km2 are mountain wetlands (44 percent) and 56,500 km2 are plains wetlands (56 percent). There were 30,000 km2 of rice paddies. Total area of mires, fens and bogs in the Northeast has declined over 42 percent in 50 years from 114,000 km2 to 66,000 km2 . Wetlands at Sanjiang, Momoge, Zhalong, and Xianghai are all drying up, severely threatening resources in corresponding nature reserves. Thus in 1949 the Sanjiang Plain had 53,500 km2 of wetlands, and today it has only 13,000 km2. Direct conversion to agriculture and dessication due to crop irrigation seem to be the two leading factors in wetland degradation in the Sanjiang Plain.

Wetland water demand could be met by various measures depending on the type of wetland. Large wetlands, like Zhalong, can and sometimes do receive water transfers through canals. Small riverine wetlands in the semi-arid zone could be sustained by altering reservoir management regimes in the headwaters. Wetlands on the Sanjiang Plain, can be saved only if surrounding irrigation systems change water supply sources from groundwater to the main surface channels or the Amur-Heilong and Ussuri-Wusuli Rivers. The current total water storage capacity of all kinds of freshwater wetlands is about 12.3 km3 , or 9 percent of the total water resource of northeast China . This should be taken into account when making water allocation decisions.

Maintenance of ecological functions of Songhua basin rivers and wetlands upstream from Harbin requires 14 km3 in a dry year (41 percent of total flow) and 20-30 km3 in an average year (45-60 percent of total flow). Analysis of data collected from 1956 to 2000 revealed that during 16 of these 45 years winter demand (550 m3 per second) could not be met given the prevailing standards of water use and flow regulation. By 2030 the area of irrigated land is predicted to increase from 3.3 to 5.6 million ha, and total socio-economic water demand is to increase from 39 to 53 km3 . With this predicted increase the socio-economic water use index should not exceed 40 percent of total available volume to conserve in-stream flows for ecological functions. However, if all presently considered water infrastructure projects are implemented, the 2030 supply still falls 1.5 km3 short of projected total demand. If economic growth is to continue at current rates, water conservation measures will be needed in addition to transfers of at least 2-3 km3 /year from the Huma River to the Nen River , plus future transfers from water-abundant boundary rivers. Several smaller projects are recommended to use Nen River waters for supply to Zhenlai District, Daqing and Qiqiha'er Prefectures, and development of irrigation systems adjacent to the newly constructed Ni'erji reservoir. On the Sanjiang Plain waters of the Amur-Heilong and Ussuri-Wusuli Rivers should be used for development of irrigation systems as a substitute for depleted groundwater. Water transfers should also facilitate replenishment and restoration of drying wetlands.

The Liao River basin faces a more critical situation with a current annual shortfall of 2 km3 . In 2003 only 6.6 km3 of river flow reached the sea, far short of the required 10 km3 , a figure defined by ecological demand. The water shortage caused degradation of estuary ecosystems. It is proposed to transfer 1.6 km3 from the Yalu River on the Korean border, 0.4 km3 from the Nen River tributary Chao'er River, and 0.3 km3 from a reservoir on the Second Songhua River to make up for the Liao River deficit. However without effective measures for saving and reusing existing water resources, these projects will not alleviate the shortage.

A "Scheme for comprehensive use of transboundary water resources of the Argun and Amur-Heilong transboundary rivers" was developed in the 1980s and was approved by China and Russia . It focused on joint development of hydropower totaling 55 billion kWh (of which 26 billion kWh would be technologically feasible). The scheme noted the severe lack of energy in northeast China, and concluded that this cooperative project should be implemented as soon as possible starting with building Taipinggou hydropower plant in Hegang prefecture on the Amur-Heilong main channel. It will be difficult to protect the free-flowing Amur-Heilong from such projects.


3.Water pollution

Water pollution is the most serious environmental problem in northeast China . Discharge of pollutants far exceeds the purification capacity of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, damages aquatic ecosystems, severely affects water supplies of cities, and influences quality of ground water and even soils. Polluted runoff from farmlands increases continuously and will continue to do so because of the large reservoirs of nutrients stored in the soils that will be released slowly over decades if not centuries.

According to 2003 data from 72 monitoring points on the Songhua River 42 percent of samples had water quality of class 5 or worse (on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is best and 5 is worst). At Harbin 's intake point for city water supply, water quality in the Songhua averaged class 4 and there is concern over the dangers of high concentrations of some organic substances and heavy metals. In groundwater beneath the Sanjiang Plain, 15 percent of the total area had water quality of classes 4-5, while beneath the Song-Nen Plain class 4-5 water quality was found in 28 percent of the area.

Official statistics show that 90 percent of industrial wastewater discharge is treated to standards, but this is unlikely. The main polluting industries are troubled with financial difficulties and restructuring, and have no capacity to install equipment for waste water treatment. The small and most polluting industrial facilities with high water consumption repeatedly re-emerge after being shut down for violations. As a result, prohibition of illegal wastewater discharge often fails. Industries known to produce massive pollution in other regions of China are moving their production facilities to the northeast, further complicating the situation.

Non-point source pollution has been long neglected and still has not been studied thoroughly. No reliable estimates are available of its contribution to total water pollution. Sources are farm fields, rural settlements, animal farms, solid waste dumps, and eroded land. Few methods are available to monitor and control these sources of pollution.


4.Agriculture, soils, desertification and land degradation

The northeast region has 25 million hectares of ploughed land, around 20 percent of the regional land area. One fifth of farmlands are irrigated (compared with the national average of 45 percent). Black soils occupy 11 million ha or 9 percent of the land area, and of those 8 million ha are reclaimed for agriculture. By 2003 the northeast had become the largest grain and bean production region in China , yielding 70 million tons of grain and beans. Of total national production the northeast produces 45 percent of soybeans, 34 percent of corn and nearly 10 percent of rice. Natural grasslands occupy 20 million ha, or 17 percent of the area, providing a suitable base for livestock breeding.

Land degradation takes many forms, including desertification, alkalinization, salinization, and erosion. Desertification affected 80,000 km2 in three western parts of the Amur-Heilong basin: Ke'erqin (62,431 km2 ), Song-Nen Plain (7,849 km2 ) and Hulunbei'er (7,435 km2 ) where rainfall averages less than 450 mm/year. This process is facilitated by the tertiary geological structure, where thick deposits of fine sand left at ancient lake beds are covered by thin soil layers. In the last 10,000 years the area changed many times from grassland to sandy semi-desert depending on climate fluctuations. In historic times livestock grazing, crop cultivation, and fire wood collection have also inspired the desertification of vast areas. Due to tree planting and grassland restoration, some limited success in reversing desertification has been achieved only in the south of the Ke'erqin area. Excessive planting of fast growing water-dependent trees like poplar has caused many additional problems and now many land managers have turned to shrubs and weeds to control moving sands.

Areas of salinization and alkalinization in the Song-Nen plain have reached 37,000 km2 , and the situation worsens as desertification continues. In the northeast, erosion is spread over 280,000 km2 , occupying nearly 23 percent of the total land area, and 34 percent of the black-soil zone, where approximately half of the black soil layer has been lost during the past 50 years.



The Northeast includes the largest remaining forests in China . 56 million ha of forests occupy 46 percent of the total area, of which 44 million ha contain 3.4 billion m3 of standing timber.

Forests were severely depleted prior to the 1980s, and today remain far from full recovery. The "Natural Forest Protection Programme," which is partly responsible for a nation-wide decrease in timber-production from 18 million m3 in 1997 to 11 million m3 in 2003, creates incentives to diversify the forest industry beyond timber production. It promotes wood processing, NTFP production, and forest tourism, and drives the forest industry to comprehensive use of natural productive potential of the forest ecosystem. But forest age structure was severely altered in the past, and continues to deteriorate, as does the quality of harvested timber. More than 60 percent of the present harvest consists of young and under-aged trees. This still exceeds the regrowth capacity of natural forests and cannot lead to sustainability in the future. Economic alternatives to logging are still in the early stages of development, often have poor technological foundations, and lack professional guidance. Finally, management of state owned forest industry bureaus, which combine all functions of business and government in one organization, leads to gross inefficiency of all reform efforts. This is further complicated by the overpopulation of forested areas by people earning low wages and suffering from high levels of unemployment.



China 's northeast has reached a record of 47 percent urban population (versus the national average of 40 percent). There are 30 cities of more than half a million people. Heavy industry's share in this development is disproportionately high because the lure of jobs that have attracted many rural people to cities. This has led to huge economic and social losses during the reform period. Unemployment rose with the closure of many heavy industrial firms that were no longer profitable in the new market economy. Mining towns are exemplary: in four major mining cities of Heilongjiang Province 110,000 miners were without jobs.

Most large cities are aligned along the axis from Harbin to Dalian . On 8.5 percent of the total land area we find 30 percent of cities and 50 percent of the population of the northeast, with the urban populations almost 5 times denser than the national average. Inadequate water quality and quantity is one of main problems in the urban areas. By 2010 the proportion of urbanites in the northeast will increase to 55 percent, required municipal water supply will exceed 10 km3, and municipal wastewater discharge will reach 7.4 km3.


7. Strategy Recommendations


Map collection: Environmental impacts of economic development



GLOBIO human impact assesment

Human footprint and ecoregions of Amur

Human footprint and protected areas coverage

Threats to biodiversity in Southern Russian Far East

Industrial Development in Songhua River Basin (ADB 2005)


GIS: Human footprint


Web-site: Programs “Development of Russian Far East and Transbaikalia” “Development of East Siberia and the Far East” and their environmental implications: link to projects and atlas


Rural plant releasing wastewater at night. Modamoji. Inner Mongolia. (Photo by E.Simonov)




Also look:

Economic development:

Sustainable future of Amur-Heilong

Russia – status of economy

Northeast China - status of economy

Mongolia – status of economy

Russia-China cooperation

Mongolian Foreign Trade and Cooperation

Mongolian trade diagrams-2003

Comparison table on Eastern Mongolia and Xinganmeng China

Comparison table on southern RFE and Heilongjiang Province, China

Policy for Revitalizing Old industrial Bases in NE China


Cumulative impacts -how much is affected?

Human Impacts and Threats to Biodiversity

Threats to major ecosystems in the Russian Far East Ecoregion-table


"Strategy Recommendations"

Our questions on "Strategy Recommendations"

Gloomy forecast of the future environmental impacts

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