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Transparent World > Environmental projects > Environmental monitoring > Project of Water Transfer of Hailar River to the Lake Dalai in the Transborder Dauria

Project of Water Transfer of Hailar River to the Lake Dalai in the Transborder Dauria

A joint project of NGO "Transparent World" and international reserve "Dauria" to assess changes of wetlands and surrounding ecosystems in the transboundary area Dauria Ecoregion using remote sensing (RS)

Fig.1. The considered river flows transfer projects in transboundary Dauria

Transparent World

Some basic information about the project of transferring part of the Hailar River flow (i.e. the headwaters of Argun River) to the Dalai Lake

Because of the rapid shallowing of Lake Dalai The Water Service of Hulunbuir Prefecture (Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region) has produced "ecological project" on transferring part of the Hailar River flow (i.e. the headwaters of Argun River) to the Dalai Lake. Redistribution of water flow probably is required for maintaining the fishing and pisciculture in the lake and the surrounding fish farms, City of Manzhouli water supply system, the development of irrigation and stock-raising, prevention of air pollution with dusty-salt slurry from the dried lake bottom, reducing the rate of eutrophication of the lake (and, as judged by the construction of channel towards "China Gold" Corporation’s mine, for the needs of the mining industry also). The project also fits to currently implemented program "Restoration of the lakes" (in the 1960th "ring-fencings of lakes" were used in China to increase the area of ​​agricultural lands, so the proportion of lakes declined more than twice).

Transferring of up to 1.5 cubic kilometers a year is planned (compare with annual runoff of Argun river: it was also about 1.5 km3 in dry 2005-2007 and up to 6.2 km3 in wet years). During the current drought conditions transferring of 0.5 km3 will lead to drying out of the floodplain (although the water may remain in the river corridor) and to the disappearance of birds habitats, including globally threatened species. The project has disastrous consequences for the ecosystem of the upper of the Argun, international reserve "Dauria", Dauria global ecoregion and the Amur basin as a whole, both in Russia and in China.

This will entail extremely strong negative social and economic consequences. Reducing the flow will also lead to deterioration of the conditions of dilution of sewage. It is likely that during low water periods Argun will mainly consist of urban wastewater of Dzhalaynor and Manchuria towns, where there are no treatment facilities. Especially large-scale and negative environmental effects will touch the site from Abagatuy to "Three Rivers", where runoff from the Chinese side is crucial for the overall flow of Argun.

Changing the water regime of Argun river also lead to a significant change in the conditions of agricultural activities for the population of border towns, primary because they use floodplain meadows for forage. In the floodplain of Argun forage not only for inner needs, but also for the neighboring areas are procured. In recent years, Argun is a leader in the livestock production, and in case of floodplains’ drying, significant problems for the livestock sector the Trans-Baikal region in general are expected.

The possible social and political consequences of the project for the transfer Argun’s water include changes in the conditions of border protection and, possibly, the passage of the boundary line. Most likely, it will require revision of the boundary around ​​the Big Island, as the Argun’s flow decrease may lead to the fact that its water content in the low-flow period will be less than in Mutnaya branch. Time-to-time drying of Argun is also not excluded (it depends on the water withdrawal volume).

References: amur-heilong.net, Water Resources Institute, Bellona, Steppe Bulletin

A joint project of NGO "Transparent World" and international reserve "Dauria" to assess changes of wetlands and surrounding ecosystems in the transboundary area Dauria Ecoregion using remote sensing (RS)

As noted before, articles from the Chinese media indicate that data used by supporters of the project are extremely biased. The results of the environmental impact assessment come off in 2006 are unknown even to employees of the reserve "Lake Dalai", not to mention the Russian side and international environmental organizations.

Consequently, within the framework of the International Russian-Chinese-Mongolian reserve "Dauria" with the participation of NGO "Transparent World" the project "Assessment of the status of wetlands and the surrounding ecosystems in the Dauria Ecoregion transboundary area for the 30-year period using remote sensing (RS)" was launched at the summer of 2007. The project is implemented with the support of ITC "ScanEx", the Amur branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the CLP Programme.

The main findings of the project are following (materials are not published, it is recommended to be referenced as Igor V. Glushkov et al. 2008-2009. Unpublished):

-          Since 1987, in the central part of the Argun river basin has been a steady trend of change from "wet" habitats towards more "dry". Thus, the overall drought leads to a reduction of ​​wetlands area. But there is a reverse process in some areas, which is often associated with human activities. This is overlapped by riverbed and flood processes, which are key to the stability of the riverbed flood in relation to drought.

-          In conjunction with the growth of agriculture and, mainly, the industrial development of the territory, a sustainable reduction in river flow can cause (and is already leading) to reduction and degradation of major wetlands ecosystems in the region.


The proportion of significant changes towards the aridization is approximately the same at the shore of Lake Dalai, and in the Argun floodplain higher up Three Rivers. Dynamics of floodplain is different from the lake one, but is also very sensitive to the same climatic fluctuations and is suffering from the same strong impact of drought. This fact demonstrates the groundlessness of claims that the transfer of part of the river flow to the lake will not significantly affect on Hailar-Argun floodplain. It’s the part of Argun river from Abagaytuya to "Three Rivers" (Priargunsk) where Hailar runoff is critical to the overall flow of Argun which will suffer from the strongest environmental impacts in case of water transfer. The area of the most valuable wetlands in the segment of the valley from the tip of the planned diversion channel to the confluence of major tributaries of Three Rivers is more than 1300 square kilometers. Also it is necessary to take into account what it’s the natural dynamics of river’s corridor and flood which provides a diversity and the resumption of the most important habitats through the floodplain. The proposed project means the transfer of a maximum percentage of water intake during the high flow rates in the river, and accordingly it is a significant weakening of flood processes. In general, the creation of hydrotechnical structures reduces the stability of the river ecosystem to climate change and increase the society costs to adapt to new climatic conditions.

Because of this, any additional water withdrawals, and even any water transfer project, is undesirable and should be the subject of careful attention of the Russian-Chinese expert committee, as affecting shared water resources and transboundary wetland ecosystems of global value.

References: amur-heilong.net, www.wrm.ru, www.bellona.ru.

The uniqueness of the Dauria Ecoregion

Dauria ecoregion includes the steppe landscapes of Daur-Mongolian type and is located on the territory of the three countries: Russia (Southeast-Eastern Transbaikalia) and the north-east of Mongolia and China.

In the area of ​​dry Daurian steppes wetlands play an important role as an essential element of the environmental framework in the region, which ensures the existence of most of the vertebrates of this territory. Substantially every lake or river is the center of concentration of biological diversity. There are five main centers within Dauria ecoregion: Torey Lake on the border of Russia and Mongolia, Argun River on the border of Russia and China, Buir-Nuur Lake on the border of Mongolia and China, as well as the Dalainor Lake and the swamps of Hoyhe River in China. All of them are sites of global importance as a habitat of birds, and all of them, except the Argun, are completely or almost completely located within national protected areas. The name "Argun" belongs to the part of river located in Russia territory; in China the river has the name of Hailar. The part of Argun from the beginning (near Abagaytuy village) to the Three Rivers point near the town Priargunsk is the most ecologically valuable, particularly for birds and fish.

The most important feature of the region are the regular cycles of droughts, leading to periodic drying out of steppe lakes, crucial spatial redistribution of fauna, sharp change in appearance and area of plant communities. The whole life of steppe is adapted to these cycles, and they are essentially raise productivity and diversity of native ecosystems.

Global ecological significance of Argun

(Goroshko OA cited):

A number of rare and poorly known plant species grows along the valley of the Argun and its steppe slopes. Washland is an important for fish feeding and spawning. However, being the habitat of waterfowls and semi-aquatic birds is the greatest value of the land. High abundance and a large number of species (both nesting and migrating) features the population of birds of the upper Argun. 227 species were noticed on the site. 40 species are expected to reside there but due to lack of studies it is not proven yet. All this part of the Dauria ecoregion is at the center of the East Asian-Australian bird flyway - one of the world's largest ones.

  • An important feature of the upper Argun is living of a large number of rare bird species. For example, 11 species endangered in the world and listed in the Red List of globally threatened species by IUCN (IUCN Red List 2007) were noted here, plus five are expected. At the same time the area is crucial to save the Swan Goose (Cygnopsis cygnoides), Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis) and the eastern subspecies of the Great Bustard (Otis tarda dybowskii). More, this area is globally significant for conservation of many other bird species. In particular, it is an important habitat for globally threatened species such as the Siberian Crane, White-naped Crane, Black Crane, Baikal Teal. The area is also valued for conservation of many species listed in the Red Book of Russia. In particular, it is home for all five protected species of cranes (through the country it’s just Argun and Torey hollow where all five species present). Demoiselle, Japanese and White-naped cranes nest here, and the Siberian crane and Hooded crane make a stop during migration. One of the greatest in the East Asian migration routes of small swans runs along Argun river in the spring. The steep sides of the valley, covered with steppe vegetation with rocky outcrops, amaze with a high number of nesting owls. Demoiselle Cranes nest on the flat steppe areas along the river, and adjacent fields are an important place of concentration thousands of cranes in the autumn. In general, 36 species of birds included in the Red Book of the Russian Federation (it is the third part of all the species of birds included in this document) are resided or suspected here. Finally, in the area indicated or suspected to be home for 50 species of birds listed in the Red Book of the Chita Region and the Agin-Buryat Autonomous District; it is nearly 90% of all birds species included to this list.
  • The second feature of Argun headwaters is that here is one of the most important places to stop during migration for waterfowl birds. This is a key place in East Asia for small swans and many other species of birds protected on federal or regional level. For example, according to preliminary data, more than 20 thousand of bean geese (species listed in the Red Book of the Chita Region and the Agin-Buryat Autonomous District) are accumulated here each spring. This is the most important place of transient concentration of bean geese, one of the few places on the planet (and the only one in Russia), where these birds can still be found in large numbers (the other clusters are located in Korea and China). Of course, the Argun floodplain plays great importance for the migration of many unprotected species of ducks and waders. In general, according to preliminary data, 1.2 million waterfowls and semi-aquatic birds usually stop here twice a year.
  • Argun floodplain plays an important role as a place of breeding for ducks, geese, cormorants, herons, terns, sandpipers and many other semi-aquatic birds, waterfowl and passerines. For example, the density of nesting terns in the surveyed area in June 2004 was, on average, about 800 birds per 1 km2, and their total number is estimated about half a million. The total number of different species of breeding birds in the area accounted for more than 1 million individuals.

    References: www.biodiversity.ru/programs/steppe/bulletin/stepbull.html

    The "Dauria" international reserve

    A unique three-way Russian-Chinese-Mongolian reserve "Dauria" created in 1994 was designed to save the outstanding value and vulnerability of local ecosystems. The Chinese part of the reserve is the lake Dalai and the Russian – Daurskiy Biosphere Reserve.

    The transboundary protected area (part of the international reserve "Dauria") proposed to establish with the highest international conservation status to protect the unique Argun river from ​​Three Rivers to Abagaytuya. In 2006 the Russian side prepared environmental substantiation for the establishment of the protected area.

    References: amur-heilong.net, www.wwf.ru, oopt.info.

    Currently, various options of river flows transfer (Mongolia - Kerulen, Onon, and Balci Uldza Gol rivers; China – Hailar river) are considered (Fig. 1) in cross-border Dauria region (on the border of Russia, Mongolia and China). These projects are interrelated, and the realization of any of them increases the possibility of other projects. According to Andrey Shalikovskiy and Anatoly Sokolov (Russian Research Institute for Integrated Water Management and Protection, 2007), variant of the transfer of Hailar river runoff to the Dalai lake is the most dangerous for Russia. Multidimensional environmental, socio-economic and socio-political consequences of this project lead to a further exacerbation of existing problems (such as growing shortage of water resources in the steppe regions and a seasonal lack of them through a significant part of the region; deterioration of water quality in transboundary waters bodies; territorial claims as a result of riverbed processes and implementation of hydrotechnical engineering; the reduction of fish resources; anthropogenic transformation of natural ecosystems, aggravating the problem of biodiversity), and can lead to an environmental crisis through the Argun basin.


    In the Fig.2 below there is a series of Landsat 7 satellite images fragments for the period since 30th June 2008 till 16th May 2009. The images were obtained from the USGS EROS Data Center (http://glovis.usgs.gov).

    The construction started from the railway, in 25 km. southeast from the city of Dzhalainor between 30th June and 1st August 2008. Since July to September 2008 the constraction was active. However, the work was halted between 18th September and 5th November. Probably the efforts were switched to the equipment in the beginning of the channel. Later the activities resumed andbetween 5th November 2008 and 21st Januray 2009 4.5 kilometers of the channel were added towards the Dalai Lake. As for 16th May 2009, no further extention of the channel's lenth was visible.