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How green were my pastures

  • Source: Global Times
  • [22:06 June 16 2010]
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Choking off the Ulagai River

A giant reservoir with a storage capacity of 248 million cubic meters at the upper stream of Ulagai River started retaining water after it was rebuilt in 2004. The reservoir dam was originally built in 1977, but collapsed in 1998 after it was damaged in a flood.

With a State investment of more than 40 million yuan, the new dam is some 700 meters long and 14 meters tall, blocking the entire channel of the Ulagai River.

At a normal water level of 911.2 meters, it can supply some 4,760 cubic meters of water annually to plants in the Ulagai Management Zone, including the Hesigewula Coalmine, the Xilinhe Chemical Plant and several electricity factories, said Li Ming, director of the Ulagai Reservoir Administration.

When asked whether the reservoir brings about drought in the downstream wetland, he said that none of the industrial plants were in operation.

"Even if we removed the reservoir, there won't be enough water flowing downstream. It is the hotter and drier weather that prevents precipitation and accelerates evaporation," he argued.

However, he said that the reservoir hasn't discharged water for six years. "Since we prioritize economic growth, local governments are unlikely to demolish controversial reservoirs," he said. "It's a problem of the system and the principal of development."

The projected profit of the reservoir's industrial water supply was 11 million yuan, according to the Development and Reform Commission of Xilin Gol league.

In March, the East Ujumqin banner government announced that the proved reserve of coal reached 30 billion tons, up 38 percent from the previous year.

As a consequence, four railway projects connecting the banner with the Hesigewula coalmine were authorized by the Inner Mongolia Development and Reform Commission and began construction on May 1.

A 2010 document said the local government seized some 1,046 hectares of grassland owned by 246 households - allocating 30 million yuan as compensation– a figure three times the actual fee of 128 yuan per hectare received by the herders.

"The government persuaded us to give up the grazing land to meet their desire for industrial expansion and urbanization, contrary to the nomadic culture," said Batujirigela, 31, a former professional wrestler in the banner and now a herder living on some 400 hectares of grassland.

More than 10 coalmines were developed in the region and supporting industries boomed, said Batar, director of the banner's Grassland Monitoring and Supervision Bureau.

"The deteriorating wetland, in short, is partly due to industrial goals that the nation fights for daily, sometimes irrationally," he said.

Policies trying to contain the spreading desert - what the government calls the "household responsibility system" and "enclosure policy" to divide grasslands by fence and allocate them to herders based on the number of household members - were disputed, by many such as Batar.

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