URUMQI, July 26 (Xinhua) -- Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has shut down hundreds of wells on Kulustay, a grassland on the China-Kazakhstan border, to protect groundwater levels, local authorities said Wednesday.
More than 370 groundwater-pumping wells have been closed, and another 1,519 wells have been installed with measuring equipment to protect groundwater, said Zhang Gang, director with the office of local ecological rehabilitation administration.
In addition, more than 14,000 hectares of farmland were returned to grassland and 12 sandpits on the grassland were shut down, Zhang added.
Zhang said the wells were used for farmland irrigation and that in terms of grounwater supply, Kulustay once had a water level almost 180 meters underground, the hardest-hit region in the area in history.
Kulustay, home to a number of wetlands, provides a perfect habitat for wildlife and migrant waterfowl. However, overgrazing, deforestation and excessive land reclamation have scarred the land since the 1980s, resulting in severe soil erosion, shrinking wetlands and wildlife extinction.
"At first, there were only several goats raised by every household, but later the number jumped to hundreds," said Yeshanbik, a local resident. "Animals eating on the grassland left ugly bald spots everywhere."
Xinjiang has sped up Kulustay grassland restoration since the end of 2015, implementing measures including closing groundwater-pumping wells, as well as prohibiting and delaying grazing.
The local government said 330 households and nearly 270,000 livestock were expected to leave the grassland by 2020.