Skip to main content

IWRM in a country under rapid transition: lessons learnt from the Kharaa River Basin, Mongolia


Since it is representative in terms of environmental and socioeconomic conditions, the Kharaa River Basin in Northern Mongolia was chosen as a Central Asian model region for the development and implementation of a science-based IWRM approach. While a highly continental climate results in limited water availability, the combined effects of climate and land use changes and rising water consumption are likely to intensify quantitative and qualitative water scarcity. In such a context, water contamination due to deficient treatment of domestic, industrial and mining-related waste waters is particularly critical, putting at risk human health and aquatic ecosystems. In the recent past, water governance structures in transitional countries like Mongolia have not permitted to respond effectively to such complex challenges. For the model region of the Kharaa River Basin, considerable improvements in the scientific basis are currently coinciding with political reforms incorporating science-based river basin management as a guiding principle. This paper provides an integrative assessment of recent advancements which form the scientific basis for a future IWRM implementation in the region.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  • Avlyush S (2011) Effects of surface gold mining on macroinvertebrate communities. A case study in river systems in the North-East of Mongolia. Lambert Academic, Saarbrücken

    Google Scholar 

  • Avlyush S, Schäffer M, Borchardt D (2013) Life cycles and habitat selection of two sympatric mayflies under extreme continental climate (River Kharaa, Mongolia). Int Rev Hydrobiol 98(3):141–154. doi:10.1002/iroh.201301628

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Basandorj D, Altanzagas B (2007) Current situation and key problems on water supply and sanitation in Mongolia. Proceedings of the International Forum on Strategic Technology, Ulaanbaatar 2007, pp 166–168. Accessed 15 Nov 2013

  • Basandorj D, Singh S (2008) Restoring the image of blue Mongolia—rural water supply and sanitation. UNICEF/UNDP, Ulaanbaatar

    Google Scholar 

  • Batimaa P, Batnasan N, Bolormaa B (2008) Climate change and water resources in Mongolia. In: Basandorj B, Oyunbaatar D (eds) International conference on uncertainties in water resource management: causes, technologies and consequences. IHP Technical Documents in Hydrology No. 1, Jakarta, pp 7–12

  • Batsukh N, Dorjsuren D, Batsaikhan G (2008) The water resources, use and conservation in Mongolia. First national report. National Water Committee, Ulaanbaatar

    Google Scholar 

  • Biswas AK (2008) Integrated water resource management: is it working? Int J Water Res Dev 24(1):5–22. doi:10.1080/07900620701871718

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chalov SR, Zavadsky AS, Belozerova EV, Bulacheva MP, Jarsjö J, Thorslund J, Yamkhin J (2012) Suspended and dissolved matter fluxes in the upper Selenga River Basin: synthesis. Geogr Environ Sustain 02(05):78–94

    Google Scholar 

  • Dombrowsky I, Houdret A, Horlemann L (2014) Evolving river basin management in Mongolia? In: Huitema D, Meijerink S (eds) The politics of river basin organisations. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, pp 122–135 (In press)

    Google Scholar 

  • Gawel E, Sigel K, Bretschneider W (2011) Affordability of water supply in Mongolia. Empirical lessons for measuring affordability. UFZ Discussion Paper, Leipzig. Accessed 15 Nov 2013

  • Hartwig M, Theuring P, Rode M, Borchardt D (2012) Suspended sediments in the Kharaa River catchment (Mongolia) and its impact on hyporheic zone functions. Environ Earth Sci 65(5):1535–1546. doi:10.1007/s12665-011-1198-2

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hering J, Ingold KM (2012) Water resources management: what should be integrated? Science 336(6086):1234–1235. doi:10.1126/science.1218230

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hofmann J (2008) Bericht über die Untersuchungen von Grundwasser und Boden auf Schwermetalle und Cyanid in Khongor Sum. Unpublished report

  • Hofmann J, Venohr M, Behrendt H, Opitz D (2010) Integrated water resources management in central Asia: nutrient and heavy metal emissions and their relevance for the Kharaa River Basin, Mongolia. Water Sci Technol 62(2):353–363. doi:10.2166/wst.2010.262

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hofmann J, Hürdler J, Ibisch R, Schaeffer M, Borchardt D (2011) Analysis of recent nutrient emission pathways, resulting surface water quality and ecological impacts under extreme continental climate: the Kharaa River Basin (Mongolia). Int Rev Hydrobiol 96(5):484–519. doi:10.1002/iroh.201111294

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hofmann J, Watson V, Scharaw B (2014) Groundwater quality under stress: contaminants in the Kharaa River basin (Mongolia). Environ Earth Sci. doi:10.1007/s12665-014-3148-2 (this issue)

    Google Scholar 

  • Horlemann L, Dombrowsky I (2012) Institutionalising IWRM in developing and transition countries: the case of Mongolia. Environ Earth Sci 65(5):1547–1559. doi:10.1007/s12665-011-1213-7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Houdret A, Dombrowsky I, Horlemann L (2013) The institutionalization of river basin management as politics of scale—insights from Mongolia. J Hydrol (In press). doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2013.11.037

  • Hülsmann L, Geyer T, Schweitzer C, Priess J, Karthe D (2014) The effect of subarctic conditions on water resources: initial results and limitations of the SWAT Model applied to the Kharaa River Basin in Northern Mongolia. Environ Earth Sci. doi:10.1007/s12665-014-3173-1 (this issue)

    Google Scholar 

  • Ilian J, Scharaw B (2012) MoMo Fact sheet decentralized waste water management: experiences from pilot operation in Orkhon Sum. Unpublished report

  • Karthe D, Sigel K, Scharaw B, Stäudel J, Hufert F, Borchardt D (2012) Towards an integrated concept for monitoring and improvements in water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in urban Mongolia. Water Risk 20:1–5

    Google Scholar 

  • Karthe D, Chalov S, Malsy M, Menzel L, Theuring P, Hartwig M, Schweitzer C, Hofmann J, Priess J, Shinkareva G, Kasimov N (2013a) Integrating multi-scale data for the assessment of water availability and quality in the Kharaa-Orkhon-Selenga River System. Geogr Environ Sustain (Submitted)

  • Karthe D, Chalov S, Theuring P, Belozerova E (2013b) Integration of meso- and macroscale approaches for water resources monitoring and management in the Baikal-Selenga-Basin. In: Chifflard P, Cyffka B, Karthe D, Wetzel KF (eds) Beiträge zum 44. Jahrestreffen des Arbeitskreises Hydrologie. Geographica Augustana, Augsburg, pp 90–94. Accessed 15 Nov 2013

  • Karthe D, Malsy M, Kopp S, Minderlein S, Hülsmann L (2013c) Assessing water availability and its drivers in the context of an integrated water resources management (IWRM): a case study from the Kharaa River Basin, Mongolia. GeoÖko 34(1–2):5–26

    Google Scholar 

  • Krätz D, Ibisch R, Saulyegul A, Ganganmurun E, Sonikhishig N, Borchardt D (2010) Impacts of open placer gold mining on aquatic communities in Rivers of the Khentii Mountains, North-East Mongolia. Mongol J Biol Sci 8(1):41–50. Accessed 15 Nov 2013

  • Livingstone A, Erdenechimeg C, Oyunsuvd A (2009) Needs assessment on institutional capacity for water governance in Mongolia. United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Government of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

    Google Scholar 

  • Lkhagvadorj A (2010) Fiscal federalism and decentralization in Mongolia. Universitätsverlag Potsdam, Potsdam

    Google Scholar 

  • Lkhagvadorj A (2012) Analysis on Mongolia’s integrated budget law. SDC, Ulaanbaatar

    Google Scholar 

  • Malsy M, aus der Beek T, Flörke M (2014) Evaluation of large-scale precipitation data sets for water resources modelling in Central Asia. Environ Earth Sci. doi:10.1007/s12665-014-3107-y (this issue)

    Google Scholar 

  • Malsy M, aus der Beek T, Eisner S, Kynast E, Flörke M (2011) Vulnerability of Central Asian water resources to climate variability. In: Гуринович АД (ed) 2011: Proceedings of the IWA 1st Central Asian regional young and senior water professionals conference, Almaty/Kazakhstan, pp 103–114

  • Malsy M, aus der Beek T, Eisner S, Flörke M (2012) Climate change impacts on Central Asian water resources. Adv Geosci 32:77–83

  • Menzel L, aus der Beek T, Törnros T, Wimmer F, Gomboo D (2008) Hydrological impact of climate and land-use change–results from the MoMo project. In: Basandorj B, Oyunbaatar D (eds) International conference on uncertainties in water resource management: causes, technologies and consequences. IHP Technical Documents in Hydrology No. 1, Jakarta, pp 13–18

  • Menzel L, Hofmann J, Ibisch R (2011) Untersuchung von Wasser- und Stoffflüssen als Grundlage für ein Integriertes Wasserressourcen—Management im Kharaa-Einzugsgebiet (Mongolei). Hydrol Wasserbewirtsch 55(2):88–103

    Google Scholar 

  • Minderlein S (2014) Evapotranspiration and energy balance dynamics of a semi-arid mountainous steppe and shrubland site in northern Mongolia. Environ Earth Sci. doi:10.1007/s12665-014-3335-1 (this issue)

    Google Scholar 

  • Ministry of Environment and Green Development [=MEGD] (2013) Decree on the creation of river basin councils and their activities. Draft in Mongolian, Ulaanbaatar

  • Mitchell B (2004) Comments by Bruce Mitchell on water forum contribution “integrated water resources management: a re-assessment by Asit. K. Biswas”. Water Int 29(3):398–399. doi:10.1080/02508060408691794

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • MoMo Consortium (2009) Integrated water resources management for Central Asia: model region Mongolia (MoMo). Case study in the Kharaa River Basin. Final Project Report

  • Nöh C, Böttger S (2013) MOMO Project—Sub-Project “waste water disposal for 6 municipalities of the Kharaa River catchment area”: research report. tilia Umwelt GmbH, Leipzig, Unpublished report

  • Pfeiffer M, Batbayar G, Hofmann J, Siegfried K, Karthe D, Hahn-Tomer S (2014) Investigating arsenic (As) occurrence and sources in ground, surface, waste and drinking water in northern Mongolia. Environ Earth Sci. doi:10.1007/s12665-013-3029-0 (this issue)

    Google Scholar 

  • Priess J, Schweitzer C, Wimmer F, Batkhishig O, Mimler M (2011) The consequences of land-use change and water demands in Central Mongolia. Land Use Policy 28(1):4–10. doi:10.1016/j.landusepol.2010.03.002

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Priess JA, Schweitzer C, Batkhishig O, Koschitzki T, Wurbs D (2014) Impacts of agricultural land-use dynamics on erosion risks and options for land and water management in Northern Mongolia. Environ Earth Sci. doi:10.1007/s12665-014-3380-9 (this issue)

    Google Scholar 

  • Rost G, Londong J, Dietze S, Osor G (2014) Integrated urban water management—development of an adapted management approach. Case study area: Darkhan, Kharaa catchment, Mongolia. Environ Earth Sci

  • Schäffer M (2011) Illustrated description of a simple methodology for quantifying fine sediment input into river bed substrate. In: Dashzeveg TS (ed) Geoecological issues in Mongolia. J Geoecol Inst Mongolian Acad Sci, pp 36–40

  • Schäffer M, Ibisch RB, Borchardt D (2008) Invertebrate Lebensgemeinschaften als Indikatoren für Landnutzungseffekte im Norden der Mongolei. In: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Limnologie [=DGL] (2009) Erweiterte Zusammenfassungen der Jahrestagung 2008 (Konstanz), Hardegsen 2009, Eigenverlag der DGL, Krefeld, pp 308–312

  • Scharaw B, Dietze S (2010) Model supported design and operation of a wastewater treatment pilot plant. Proceedings of the 55th International Scientific Colloquium, Ilmenau, Germany, 13–17 September 2010, pp 57–61

  • Scharaw B, Westerhoff T (2011) A leak detection in drinking water distribution network of Darkhan in framework of the project Integrated Water Resources Management in Central Asia, Model Region Mongolia. In: ГУPИHOBИЧ AД (ed) Proceedings of the IWA 1st Central Asian Regional Young and Senior Water Professionals Conference, Almaty/Kazakhstan, S. 275–282

  • Schweitzer C (2012) Modelling land-use and land-cover change and related environmental impacts in Northern Mongolia. Doctoral dissertation at Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany

  • Schweitzer C, Priess J (2009) Modelling land-use and land-cover change and the impact on water resources in northern Mongolia. GLP Newsletter No. 5:9–12. Accessed 15 Nov 2013

  • Sigel K (2012) Urban water supply and sanitation in Mongolia: a description of the political, legal, and institutional framework. UFZ Discussion Paper, Leipzig.

  • Sigel K, Altantuul K, Basandorj D (2012) Household needs and demand for improved water supply and sanitation in peri-urban ger areas: the case of Darkhan, Mongolia. Environ Earth Sci 65(5):1561–1566. doi:10.1007/s12665-011-1221-7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Snellen WB, Schrevel A (2004) IWRM: for sustainable use of water 50 years of international experience with the concept of integrated water management. Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, Wageningen, The Netherlands

  • Stålnacke P, Gooch GD (2010) Integrated water resource management. Irrig Drain Syst 24(3–4):155–159. doi:10.1007/s10795-010-9106-6

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stäudel J, Seyfarth R, Londong J (2012) MoMo Fact Sheet iPiT®—integrated personal innovative Toilet. Unpublished report

  • Sullivan C, van Afferden M (2012) MoMo fact sheet waste water treatment plant with integrated wood production. Unpublished report

  • The Asia Foundation (2010) Corruption Benchmarking Survey Mongolia. Ulaanbataar

  • The Economist (2012) Booming Mongolia. Mine, all mine. 21/01/2012,

  • Theuring P, Rode M, Behrens S, Kirchner G, Jha A (2013) Identification of fluvial sediment sources in a meso-scale catchment, Northern Mongolia. Hydrol Process 27(6):845–856. doi:10.1002/hyp.9684

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thorslund J, Jarsjö J, Chalov SR, Belozerova EV (2012) Gold mining impact on riverine heavy metal transport in a sparsely monitored region: the upper Lake Baikal Basin case. J Environ Monit 14(10):2780–2792. doi:10.1039/c2em30643c

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tortell P, Borjigdkhan A, Naidansuren E (2008) Institutional structures for environmental management in Mongolia. UNDP, Ulaanbaatar

    Google Scholar 

  • UNDP (2010) Country Sector Assessments. UNDP GoAL WaSH Programme. vol 2: Governance, Advocacy and Leadership for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. New York

  • UNESCO (2009) The United Nations World Water Development Report 3: water in a changing world. UNESCO and London, Paris, Earthscan

  • UNICEF and WHO (2008) Progress on drinking water and sanitation. Special focus on sanitation. Joint monitoring programme for water supply and sanitation. WHO, Geneva

  • Watson V, Scharaw B (2012) Groundwater monitoring and modelling in the frame work of the project integrated water resources. In: Tserashchuk M (ed) Proceedings of the IWA Young and Senior Water Professionals Conference St Petersburg 2012 Part I, pp 30–137

  • Wimmer F, Schlaffer S, aus der Beek T, Menzel L (2009) Distributed modelling of climate change impacts on snow sublimation in northern Mongolia. Adv Geosci 21:117–124

  • Wesenfeld H, Scharaw B (2012) MoMo fact sheet SBR pilot plant on the central waste water treatment plant in Darkhan City. Unpublished report

Download references


The results presented in this paper are based on the research and development project “Integrated Water Resources Management in Central Asia: Model Region Mongolia”, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in the framework of the FONA (Research for Sustainable Development) initiative (Grant No. 033L003). We acknowledge the support provided by the Project Administration Jülich (PTJ) and the BMBF/International Bureau in the context of the “Assistance for Implementation” (AIM) scheme. Finally, we would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Daniel Karthe.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Karthe, D., Heldt, S., Houdret, A. et al. IWRM in a country under rapid transition: lessons learnt from the Kharaa River Basin, Mongolia. Environ Earth Sci 73, 681–695 (2015).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: