- freely available
Water 2015, 7(7), 3486-3514; https://doi.org/10.3390/w7073486
2. Characteristics of the Study Region
2.1. Water Availability and Its Determinants
2.2. Water Quality and Aquatic Ecosystem Status
2.3. Water in Urban Mongolia: The Example of Darkhan
|Provision of safe drinking water||Mining activities upstream of Darkhan city are potential sources of water contamination. In 2007, an accident in an illegal gold mining operation in Khongor Sum, just upstream of Darkhan, contaminated local drinking water sources with mercury and cyanides . The ash basin of Darkhan’s thermal power plant, which is located near two of the city’s drinking water wells, is heavily contaminated with arsenic [40,41]. Groundwater in several parts of Darkhan shows signs of wastewater contamination, e.g., through elevated boron and chloride levels . Shallow wells located in the proximity of latrines are potential sources of water-borne disease transmission, but reliable data on microbiological water quality and water-borne infections are almost non-existent .|
|Water losses in centralized supply system||Large apartment blocks in Darkhan are connected to the city’s centralized cold and warm water distribution system. Until repair works were started in 2012, leakage losses were about 50%. Moreover, low water fees and the absence of meters leads to a very high per capita consumption, which was around 400 L/day in 2009 [35,57].|
|Limited access to water in peri-urban ger areas||Peri-urban ger areas receive their drinking water either from pipe- or truck-fed water kiosks, by private wells or by surface water. The daily per capita household water consumption in Darkhan’s ger areas averages about 12 L, which falls below the minimum UNICEF and WHO recommendations of 15 to 25 L·cap−1·day−1. This may be explained both by a relatively high cost and the more difficult access to water as compared to tap water .|
|Deficient urban wastewater treatment||Since its commissioning in 1968, no constructional changes besides some minor works in 1978 and 1998 have been undertaken at Darkhan’s WWTP . The plant was not designed to eliminate nitrogen and phosphorous and the disinfection stage (chlorination) has been out of order for several years. There is a potential risk of oxygen depletion and eutrophication for the receiving water body, the Kharaa River. The ongoing growth of Darkhan’s population, which is expected to double to more than 160,000 inhabitants by 2040, may aggravate this problem unless improvements in waste water treatment are made .|
|Deficient urban storm water management||The storm water network which is separated from the wastewater network consists of drainpipes (mostly underneath the main roads) and open channels outside the city. It discharges into the floodplain of the Kharaa River. Poor maintenance of the storm water network leads to regular blocking of open channels with solid waste and blocking of pipes with sediment. This causes a regular flooding of residential areas, including property damages after heavy rainfalls .|
2.4. Legal, Political and Institutional Framework for Environmental Monitoring and IWRM Implementation
3. IWRM Implementation under Data Scarcity: Experiences from the Kharaa River Basin, Mongolia
3.1. Data Availability at the River Basin Level and Implications for River Basin Management
|Before the Project (2006)||Current State/after the Project (2014)|
|Hydrology and water availability|
|Limited climatological and hydrological data were available, but mostly restricted to the lower KRB. Discharge monitoring stations were located in the upper KRB (Sugnugur River), middle (near Baruunkhara) and lower KRB (downstream of Darkhan). Existing data were insufficient to assess the spatial heterogeneity of temperature and precipitation and to understand hydrological processes in different parts of the river catchment.||Climate and discharge monitoring stations were installed in the particularly data scarce upper KRB. Temperature and precipitation maps of the Kharaa River Basin were produced . Runoff contributions from all subcatchments were estimated .|
|There was no regionalized projection for climate and hydrological changes for the Kharaa or other nearby river basins.||A scenario study with the large-scale model WaterGAP3 (based on five arc minutes) showed a general increase in mean annual water availability with increasing spring and summer peaks . A moderate increase in precipitation and a continuous, drastic increase in air temperature until the end of the 21st century leads to a slight decrease of simulated discharge . Increasing water consumption around major cities in northern Mongolia is likely to exceed the increases in water availability [76,77].|
|Up-to-date quantitative information on land cover did not exist. The occurrence of forest fires was described anecdotally but could not be quantified. The links between different landscape units/land covers on the hydrological cycle were poorly understood.||Land cover maps were created based on remote sensing and ground truthing. Land cover and land use change were monitored based on multitemporal imagery [30,31,52]. Forest fires and their impacts were quantified [78,79]. Detailed field investigations in the relatively water-rich headwaters of the KRB showed that deforestation through forest fires and (illegal) timber extraction lead to increased runoff with rising flood peaks and intensified erosion, thus having adverse consequences on water availability further downstream [22,34].|
|Water quality data was extremely scarce, and documentation on collection methods and data quality were typically lacking. There had not been any documented, systematic survey on surface or groundwater quality at the river basin scale before the project. Moreover, the relevance of individual stressors was unknown.||Sampling campaigns along the Kharaa and its tributaries were carried out and three automated water quality monitoring stations were installed in the upstream, midstream and downstream sections of the Kharaa. The observed gradients helped to (a) characterize the manmade increase of pollutant concentrations beyond natural background levels and (b) localize pollutant inflows. Obsolete and/or insufficient urban wastewater management, effluents of gold mining and livestock farming along the river banks were identified as main stressors, and (potential) pollution hot spots were mapped [16,27,37,40,41,44].|
|Nutrient and sediment emissions, the relative importance of different sources and transport loads were not quantified.||Nutrient emissions were estimated using the nutrient emissions model MONERIS [41,44]. Urban systems were found to be the leading source. Sediment sources were identified using geochemical and isotope-based fingerprinting techniques. River-bank erosion was identified as the predominant fine sediment source [47,48]. For the period 2007 to 2013, the transport loads of sediments, nutrients, heavy metals, and sediments were calculated based on water quality and hydrological data [37,44,45,46].|
|There was no consistent typology or classification of water body types. Reference conditions and their alterations under anthropogenic pressures were not described. Therefore, a reference based ecological characterization of surface water bodies was not possible.||It was possible to identify four surface water bodies along the main channel of the Kharaa and seven along its tributaries. These eleven water bodies could be assigned to five river types, comparable to the European river typology. Type-specific reference conditions could be identified .|
|Scientific information on the state of aquatic ecosystems did not exist. There were only assumptions about stressors. Therefore, water management decisions taking into account the specific situation of individual water bodies and the surrounding (sub-) catchments were impossible.||A comprehensive inventory of the aquatic fauna, physico-chemical and hydromorphological parameters was used to develop reference based ecological assessment tools incorporating several biological indicators and metrices . An initial assessment revealed river sections being at risk of failing the good ecological status.|
|Urban water management|
|Information for planning sustainable urban water management was highly fragmented or did not exist.||A water budget for the city of Darkhan was calculated, following a compilation of water abstraction and water use data [79,80]. Information on the state of water supply and wastewater management was documented [37,57,79,81].|
3.2. Urban Water Management under Data Scarcity
3.3. Nutrient Emission Modelling under Data Scarcity
- Atmospheric deposition on the water surface was estimated by evaluating publications, contacting experts, and applying this knowledge to the river basin characteristics.
- Nitrogen surplus/deficits were calculated by adapting the Organization for Economic Development (OECD) approach  and using input data from the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry (MOFA) and the Agricultural University of Darkhan.
- All waste water treatment plants were localized and missing discharge and pollution information was estimated based on type and size of treatment plants.
- The number of inhabitants per analytical unit (AU, smallest hydrological sub-catchment in MONERIS, ) was derived from different statistical and GIS datasets.
- Emissions and retention of anthropogenic excreta for areas without wastewater treatment were estimated with an empirical approach.
3.4. Assessing Aquatic Ecology and Environmental Impacts under Data Scarcity
- Surface waters were only poorly described with regard to major physical and chemical factors that determine their characteristics and hence the aquatic ecosystems. Different types of rivers or bodies of water (as a distinct manageable unit) were not defined.
- Type-specific hydro-morphological, physico-chemical, and biological reference conditions representing a pristine or slightly disturbed ecological status had not been determined.
- Therefore, an assessment scheme allowing the identification of good ecological status and deviations thereof was not available for Mongolia. Some ecological information was initially available, like species lists of fish [94,95] or benthic invertebrates , but ecological knowledge on individual species (ecological preferences, life cycles etc.) or community compositions was and remains extremely limited.
- The types and magnitudes of significant anthropogenic pressures were not exactly known, but it was obvious that open placer mining and emissions from a few urban centers played a major role. An assessment of the susceptibility of the surface water status to the pressures identified had not been done before.
- Open placer gold mining activities in the basin pose a significant pressure on aquatic ecosystems, especially in the Boroo valley and the Gatsuurt area. Effects of open placer mining include dramatic damages in hydromorphology, rising nutrient inputs, high fine sediment loads, and mining-related releases of toxic substances [18,42,51]. The initial risk assessment of the Boroo Gol indicated the “moderate” ecological status. The number of sensitive species as well as biodiversity in the benthic invertebrate community were strongly reduced. Furthermore, an increased share of potamphilic and lotic species was identified, indicating an altered hydrological situation. Additionally, many filamentous green and blue-green algae could be observed during the samplings. This also points towards hydrological alterations and increased nutrient concentrations.
- Unsustainable land use practices (high intensity of livestock farming, forest fires) and missing riparian vegetation adjacent to the river caused land erosion and influx of eroded sediments into the rivers [33,52]. Structural and functional metrics of the benthic invertebrate community indicated negative effects of fine sediment input from the catchment especially in the middle reaches of Kharaa Main River, but also in some of the tributaries. A reduced number of species, a lower Shannon diversity index , a reduced number of sensitive Ephemeroptera (mayflies), Plecoptera (stoneflies), and Trichoptera (caddisflies) (EPT) species as well as an increased number of fine sediment colonizers were found in those stretches where elevated turbidity in the surface water was detected. Sediment matrix traps were installed in selected stream sites in order to quantify fine sediment input from the stream to the river bed and the hyporheic zone. A significantly increased accumulation of sediments in the matrix traps was found downstream of the confluence of Zagdalin River and Kharaa River. Moreover, evidence for the physical clogging of the river bed in some stretches of Kharaa River downstream from the confluence of Zagdalin River was found, reducing the habitat quality for benthic invertebrates with life stages associated with the hyporheic zone and for gravel-spawning fish [47,49].
- Unsustainable fisheries management caused deficits in the fish populations of the Kharaa River. Besides the pressures from open placer gold mining described above, intensive recreational fishing was found to pose a significant pressure on fish populations. Recreational fishing by local dwellers and excursionists from the capital Ulaanbaatar is common in this area. During the investigations in the Kharaa river basin in total 14 fish species belonging to nine families were recorded . Intensive fishing caused a significant deficit in the distribution of age classes at several river reaches with a relative reduction of larger and older fish. These sexually mature individuals are essential for self-sustaining fish populations. A dramatic decline in occurrence was found for the taimen (Hucho taimen), which is a red-listed fish species in Mongolia. Existing Mongolian laws which define a minimum size for fish caught as well as off-periods for fisheries are not respected by local fishermen and not implemented effectively by the environmental administration but their enforcement will play a crucial role to preserve ecological health of the rivers in the future.
4. Summary of Key Findings
5. Conclusions and Recommendations
- A crucial measure to preserve the quantity  and the quality  of water resources throughout the basin is the protection of the upper stream reaches in the Khentii mountains which can be regarded as “water towers”. The mountainous water courses do not only contribute significantly to the discharge of the Kharaa, but also represent important places of reproduction and a refuge for the aquatic fauna. Therefore, these areas must be protected against exploitation, which explicitly includes mining, deforestation, overgrazing and overfishing.
- The direct and indirect contamination of surface and ground waters by mining and industrial activities needs to be reduced. In particular, this includes waste water ponds as well as tailings of mines and the ash basins of thermal power plants such as in Darkhan .
- Since wastewater emissions from urban areas represent important point sources of contamination, improvements in centralized urban wastewater systems are essential. Moreover, recent experiences demonstrated that already existing technologies can be successfully adapted to the specific conditions in Mongolia, which include extremely cold winters .
- The short-circuit from infiltration of untreated wastewater close to groundwater extraction sites for domestic self-supply in river riparian plains has to be disrupted. The installation of adapted semi-central wastewater collection and treatment technologies in combination with timber production is one option that would also reduce the pressure on riparian tree vegetation [33,81].
- The regeneration of river riparian zones has to be fostered by eliminating/reducing the pressure of exploitation (e.g., livestock herding). Protection of the remnants of non-degraded riparian zones as well as areas with a high potential of self-regeneration have high priority .
- The implementation and enforcement of existing fishery laws which define a minimum size for fish caught as well as off-periods for fisheries are of high importance to preserve the ecological health of the rivers in the long run. A survey among fishermen in the Kharaa catchment in 2012 showed that many locals could not identify protected fish species properly. Moreover, most interviewees were not aware of existing regulations and did not know about the ecological background of off-periods. Therefore, information campaigns and capacity development activities seem to be of the highest importance here.
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