“During four of the last 10 summers, more than half of the 800-mile Tarim River in northwestern China ran dry. Landscape ecologist Niels Thevs has been there conducting fieldwork and has watched water shortages take the heaviest toll on downstream cotton farmers, who irrigate six or seven times during the growing cycle. “One could really feel the struggle for water,” Thevs recalls. “People did everything they could.” But their typical strategy — drilling wells — only further depleted the basin’s groundwater reserves.
With its population growing and agricultural activity intensifying, the Tarim River basin, the largest arid inland basin in China, is facing threats to water security that also are confronting the nearby nations of Central Asia. But on the horizon is another challenge that will only exacerbate the region’s growing water woes: melting glaciers. The Tarim basin receives about 40 percent of its water from glacial runoff, and although glacial melting may initially provide the basin with more water, scientists say the inevitable shrinking of many glaciers will likely reduce total available water. That could leave downstream farmers and communities high and dry.”
Read more: Yale Environment 360