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    Illegal Artificial Lakes, Dams Revealed in Gansu Amid Water Shortage

    Water irrigation is essential for sustaining economic activities in the Heihe River Basin, including for corn production. But dwindling water supplies have led some to resort to illegal means to divert water.
    Dec 07, 2023#environment

    Provincial authorities in the northwestern Gansu province have launched a “rectification campaign” after more than 30 artificial lakes covering an area of up to 560 soccer fields were illegally built in a part of the province prone to drought.

    The artificial lakes, revealed by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment last Friday, were built in the span of more than a decade near Zhangye City, located in the middle reaches of the Heihe River Basin.

    Often referred to as the “mother river” of northwest China, the Heihe River supports extensive cornfields in Gansu, one of the country’s biggest corn production regions. However, the river has suffered from dropping water levels over the years due to population growth, economic development, and the increasing frequency of heat waves.

    The MEE investigation into environmental degradation in Gansu province, launched on Nov. 22, found that three artificial lakes covering an area of 2,250 acres were built around Zhangye’s Lushuiwan Scenic Area in 2011 without approval.

    In 2022 alone, these lakes extracted 26 million cubic meters of water from the Heihe River without a permit, equivalent to twice the amount of water in Hangzhou’s famous West Lake. 

    Other scenic areas in the city were also found to have been extracting water from the river without a permit, while some exceeded their permitted amount.

    Inland cities in areas prone to droughts may build dams and create artificial lakes in order to meet their water needs, explained Tang Deshan, a professor at Hohai University’s College of Water Conservancy and Hydropower Engineering.

    “Excessive water irrigation has a negative impact on downstream ecosystems, but it can also improve the surrounding ecology. The key is to strike a balance,” Tang told Sixth Tone.

    In August, the Gansu water resources department issued a serious drought warning for Zhangye City. As water levels in the Heihe River have dwindled, local authorities have initiated water conservation projects to mitigate the impact.

    But some have seemingly resorted to illegal methods to divert water.

    The MEE investigation also found three rubber dams in Ganzhou District along the main Heihe River were built for water storage without approval, interrupting river flow.

    A subsequent report by state-run Xinhua News found 16 more dams in another part of the river in Ganzhou District, with an average of one dam every 130 meters.

    In 2020, the central government launched a campaign targeting the illegal building of artificial lakes nationwide. However, the MEE investigation found that several artificial lakes around Zhangye were built after the campaign was launched.

    Artificial lakes are commonly used for legitimate reasons in China, such as water storage and recreation, but several Chinese localities have been caught exploiting them.

    Last Friday, CCTV reported that Sanmenxia City in the central Henan Province had built artificial lakes under the pretense of environmental protection to illegally extract water from the Yellow River, undermining flood safety along the river.  

    Editor: Vincent Chow.

    (Header image: A view of Lushuiwan Scenic Area in Zhangye, Gansu province. From Weibo)