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Desert Reservoir Shrinks Due to Worsening Ecology
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The Hongya Reservoir, located between the Badanjilin and Tengli deserts, in Minqin in northeast China's Gansu Province, is a project that has a direct bearing on 200,000 people's livelihood. It also has enjoyed a great reputation as "Asia's First Desert Reservoir." With the local ecological environment getting worse and the two deserts expanding in recent years, the reservoir has suffered an invasion of wind-borne sand.

Because of continuous drought in recent years, large stretches of forest and grassland around the reservoir have disappeared or begun to wither; the earth's surface in the forward desert areas has become porous, and drifting sand is approaching the reservoir, according to its management sources. Now, the two deserts are less than one km away from the reservoir on average, with the closest distance measured in several dozen meters.

Sandstorms have become frequent. "Lots of gaps in the foliage cover now make it easy for the reservoir to be attacked by wind and sand," said the management source. "When sandstorms approach, the wind is so strong that several tons of earth is dumped in the reservoir."

Sandstorms not only damage the reservoir dam, but also reduced its capacity. It is estimated that each year sandstorms dump 350,000 cubic meters of sand into the reservoir. Its average depth has been reduced by nearly two meters, the water capacity dropping from 127 to 97 million cubic meters, and the silt volume reaching 30 million cubic meters. The available water capacity is only 70 million cubic meters.

Local people are deeply concerned because they know the importance of the reservoir. Starting in 1958, the project, with three construction periods and an investment of 25.1 million yuan, was finally completed in 1997. Locals say that the reservoir is responsible for the water supply of 250,000 people in 16 townships. "No oasis or person in the area can survive without the reservoir," they added.

To protect the project, local people have used wheat straw and planted sacsaoul (Holoxylon ammodendron), red poplar, and Salix mongolica to fix the sand and protect the ecological environment.

"Combating the invasion of the wind and sand here is a protracted war. Nobody knows when it will succeed," said an official in charge of the reservoir, looking at the sparse vegetation nearby.

(China.org.cn translated by Li Jingrong on June 19, 2003)

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