In winter, tens of thousands of waterfowls swim and fly across the reeds in Taitema Lake, Bayingoleng Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang, China. Beside the lake, the 218 National Highway runs straight to Ruoqiang Oasis, which lies only ten kilometers away. As the sun disappears into the Taklamakan desert, the land glows in a warm golden hue.
Taitema Lake used to be the tail lake of several inland rivers of Tarim Basin, including Tarim River and Cherchen River. However, in the early 1970, it vanished. In the past 18 years, Xinjiang has made persistent efforts for the ecological restoration of the Tarim Basin, 1.02 million square kilometers in area. With many successful milestones, the revitalization of Taitema Lake is remarkable.
At the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, President Xi Jinping stated, “We must realize that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets and acting upon this understanding, implement our fundamental national policy of conserving resources and protecting the environment. We must cherish the environment as we cherish our own lives.” He also said, “We should, acting on the principles of prioritizing resource conservation and environmental protection and letting nature restore itself, develop spatial layouts, industrial structures, and ways of work and life that help conserve resources, and protect the environment. With this, we can restore the serenity, harmony, and beauty of nature.” The eco-environmental restoration and improvement of Taitema Lake of Xinjiang, which lies at the northwestern edge of Taklamakan Desert, is a good example of how this statement can be interpreted.
“At that time, there was a lot of water in the river and a raft could be drawn down from Yingsu village,” said Majahan Rustan, an 85-year-old local woman recalling her youth. At that time, Majahan lived in Yingsu Village, about 130 kilometers away from Taitema Lake. As a 27 year old, she never imagined that the shimmering section of Tarim River near the village, was saying its final farewell to the villagers.
In the past, Taitema Lake was connected to Lop Nur through a big water way. The water of Cheerchen River and Tarim River flowed into Taitema Lake, and then would follow the waterway flowing into the Lop Nur, whenever there was plentiful water in the rivers. However, this water way has long been submerged in the desert, together with the drying Lop Nur, and Taitema Lake became the Tarim River's tail since then.
As there have been increasing demands for water usage in the middle and upper reaches of the rivers, and the impacts of climate changes are more and more visible on the local environment, the inflow of water into many rivers such as the Tarim River and the Cherchen River, has drastically decreased. In 1972, water cut-off in the Tarim River section from Daxihaizi Reservoir and down to the lower reaches appeared. In 1983, there were only a few small water ponds at the tail area of the Cherchen River, near Taitema Lake. And not long after that the lake dried up too.
This disastrous change resulted in eco-environmental disasters one after another. For instance, the lake wetlands disappeared and then the vegetation consisting of local special plants, such as Chinese tamarisk, Haloxylon shrubs, and diversiform-leaved poplar forest, also disappeared. Soon after, the water cut-off area of the river valleys was about 400 km long from the lake up to the low-middle reaches of the Tarim River. All this suggested that the eco-environmental conditions in the lower reaches of the Tarim River are serious and severe. In the beginning of the 21st century, population outflow began in the influenced area.
The establishment of the Tarim River Basin Management Bureau in 1992, by the State Council of China, marked the start of government-level eco-environment governance project in the Tarim River Valley. In 2002, the national Tarim River Basin Comprehensive Management Project started.
In 2000, the first ecological water transport to low reaches of the Tarim River began. From 2010 to 2017, there has been water flowing into Taitema Lake from Tarim River every year, and the lake water volume has been growing each year. 2017 has been a year of rich water, and a year in which abundant flowing-in water works together with the water management mechanism. Daxihaizi Reservoir has released 1.087 billion cubic meters of ecological water down to the lower reaches. The total area of Taitema Lake and wetland has expanded to 511 square kilometers, the highest record since 1959.
The monitoring data shows that the area of vegetation restoration and improvement in the lower part of the Tarim River has increased to 2,285 square kilometers. The area covered by new vegetation is about 362 square kilometers, and the improvement of the local eco-environment has resulted in the reduction of the desert area to 854 square kilometers, with an increase in plant species from 17 to 46.
Translated by Helime
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