Water War: Ukraine Builds Costly Dam to Cut River's Flow to Breakaway Crimea
May 2, 2017 UAWire & TASS & Mansur Mirovalev / Al Jazeera
Three years ago, after the Russian annexation of Crimea, the US-backed government in Ukraine built an expensive dam to block the flow of water from the Dnieper River along the North Crimean canal, thereby depriving Crimea of its main source of water. While Crimea responded by building desalination plants, the dam has caused environmental problems inside Ukraine. The costly, ill-considered dam has become a symbol of political corruption.
Crimea Water Shortage: Sevastopol taps running dry as Russian occupation faces supply problems. UKRAINE TODAY (November 14, 2014).
Ukraine Shuts Off
Water Flow to Crimea with New Dam UAWire.com
(May 1, 2017) -- A new dam on the north Crimean canal has shut off water flow to the annexed Crimea. The stationary concrete dam was constructed on the border of mainland Ukraine with the annexed peninsula, the TSN news program reports. The water saved from the Kakhovka Reservoir is meant to irrigate the southern Kherson region.
If the canal is closed off several dozens of kilometers from the administrative border, where the last stationary dam is, the farms further south would be under threat of drought. For this reason water is allowed to flow there under lower pressure, and the farmers have set up their own dam with sandbags.
A fully-fledged solution has been found for this problem, which will make it possible to cultivate rice and wheat. "We now have confidence in our tomorrow," farmer Yuriy Dudchenko explained.
The dam was under construction for a year and cost 35 million hryvnia. The structure reliably shuts off the flow of the canal, not allowing water into the occupied territory.
Specialists say that work on developing the new dam will continue. "The first stage is complete. The continuation will be the creation of infrastructure. Winches, guard rooms, security," explained the head engineer responsible for the North Crimean Canal, Volodymyr Okhapku.
The new dam has a valve, which can be opened at any time. When the Crimea returns to Ukraine, water will once again fill the 300 km of the North Crimean canal.
The Crimean authorities have called the dam, which shuts off water to the annexed peninsula "minor foul play".
"I can't call this anything other than minor foul play. I repeat: we have enough water, the reservoirs are full, and furthermore, we don't need their water. But they are so happy to have such a dam," said Yukhym Fiks, chairman of the state construction committee of the so-called "republic's" state council.
Another representative of the Crimean authorities, Igor Vayl, head of the so-called "State committee on water economy and melioration" of the Crimea, said that the peninsula has all the water it needs, Interfax reports.
"We have enough water for the holiday season, we have 100% of the supplies we need. We have no water problems," he said. Copyright 2017 UAWire
Ukraine Blows Money by Building Dam
To Cut Off Crimea's Water -- Russian Lawmaker TASS
MOSCOW (April 30, 2017) -- Construction of a dam in Ukraine's Kherson region to cut Crimea off water supplies shows moral depravity and is merely a waste of money, said Frants Klintsevich, a member of the upper house of Russian parliament.
Ukraine has put into service the dam that fully blocks the flow of water from the Dnieper River along the North Crimean canal. The Russian lawmaker called the idea 'wishful thinking'.
"It is quite similar to Crimea's energy blockade," Klintsevich said. "The peninsula has water, but Ukrainian hryvnias have been wasted. So to say, cutting off the nose to spite the face."
Ukrainian authorities first create problems for their country and then "succeed" in solving them, he said.
"Three years ago, having closed the Dnieper sluice gates, they shut off water supplies to the agricultural areas in the Kherson region as well," he added. "Now a dam of 35 million hryvnia ($1.315 million) worth needs to be erected. They, however, could report 'We have eventually dewatered the drought-prone Crimea.'" Dam Leaves Crimea in Chronic Water Shortage The North Crimean Canal, once provided
85 percent of Crimea's drinking and irrigation water Mansur Mirovalev / Al Jazeera
TAIGAN, Ukraine (January 4, 2017) -- The Taigan reservoir in central Crimea, once about 200 hectares (500 acres), has shrunk to a third of its former size; its shores a cobweb of cracked clay, its waterline meters below the nearest tree or bush even after several torrential rains in late November.
The image is opposite to how many Russians picture the Black Sea peninsula -- a postcard paradise with palm-fringed beaches, azure waters and cheap local wine. After all, that's what the 2014 annexation was about -- to regain the Soviet Riviera, the crown jewel of Russian czars, a naval and trade outpost once ruled by Roman emperors, Mongol khans and Ottoman sultans.
But the Massachusetts-sized inkblot of a peninsula mostly consists of arid steppes and mountains where shallow rivulets can sustain life only in their valleys and coastal areas. Agriculture here mostly depends on irrigation, and urban areas flourished only after the Soviets built two dozen reservoirs and a massive canal to divert water from the Dnieper, Ukraine's largest river.
In 2013, the North Crimean Canal drew 1.5 million cubic meters of water. It amounted to about 85 percent of Crimea's drinking and irrigation water. But shortly after the annexation, Ukrainian authorities shut the canal with a hastily-built dam.
The decision gained little attention amid the diplomatic cannonade that brought Moscow's ties with the West to Cold-War lows, and the ensuing separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Yet, the water blockade will wrack Crimea's agriculture, economy and population of 2.3 million for years to come, according to environmentalists, irrigation experts and officials.
Chronic water shortages in Crimea seem inevitable -- and may prompt resettlement of its residents to Russia, they warn.
"Hundreds of thousands will have to be relocated," Vladimir Garnachuk, political activist and head of Clean Coast Crimea, a non-profit monitor, told Al Jazeera . "Soon, we will see dust storms with salt that will move to the centre of Crimea."
Mikhail Romashchenko, a top Ukrainian water expert said that Crimea's own water sources would suffice for less than a half of its population.
"We're talking about one million people," Romashchenko, who is the director of Ukraine's Institute of Water and Melioration Issues, said in televised remarks in early November. "We consider Crimea a region with a catastrophically low water supply."
From the very start of the water blockade, Ukraine knew it would bring about a humanitarian "catastrophe". Those were the words of Vasily Stashuk, Ukraine's top irrigation official at the time, who resisted the blocking of the canal.
The blockade has nearly eliminated agriculture in Crimea.
The amount of irrigated land fell almost 30-fold from almost 400,000 (10,000 acres) hectares, Crimea's pro-Russian agriculture minister, Andrey Ryumshin, was quoted by Radio Svoboda as saying in late November.
Crimean pro-Russia authorities banned water-thirsty crops such as rice and soy, trying to introduce winter wheat, expand vineyards and orchids -- or replace agriculture with sheep breeding, officials say.
"Agriculture has been cancelled," Valery Lyashevsky of Crimea's State Committee on Water told Al Jazeera.
Water accumulated in Crimea's reservoirs and once destined for irrigation is now being redirected to urban areas in the south and east, and most of the reservoirs have shrunk dramatically.
Pro-Russian authorities in Crimea reportedly pledged to complete a network of underground water pumps by 2020 -- at the cost of almost $330m. But experts, such as Garnachuk, warn that the underground deposits depend on the shutdown canal and will run dry within years.
This summer, half of Crimea's 14 districts faced drinking water shortages, officials said in August. For several weeks, a town and several villages in eastern Crimea got their drinking water from trucked tanks, they said.
The "return" of Crimea propped up President Vladimir Putin's approval ratings to 88 percent. But water shortages may ruin his plans to turn Crimea into Russia's top tourist destination. Before the annexation, the peninsula received up to 6 million tourists annually, and Putin said the figure should rise to 14 million.
The discontent of locals is the last thing the Kremlin needs amid Western sanctions, a crippling economic crisis and Crimea's painful "transfer" to the Russian legislation. Pro-Russian officials said they cannot afford to divert water from mainland Russia across the narrow Kerch strait or build energy-hungry water desalination plants.
Looming Environmental Disaster
The problem is aggravated by a major environmental hazard. The northern Crimean town of Armyansk is home to the Crimea Titan, a major producer of titanium dioxide, chemical fertilisers, sodium and lithium that belongs to Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, who has been investigated by the US FBI and is reportedly wanted in Spain for money laundering.
Although thousands of businesses and properties that belonged to the Ukrainian government and businessmen have been expropriated or strong-armed by pro-Russian authorities, Firtash retained the ownership, and his plant consumes 48,000 cubic metres (1,700,000 cubic feet) of water a day.
"They rapaciously pump water from underground sources," activist Garnachuk said of the plant's managers.
Firtash's press service did not comment to Al Jazeera on the allegations.
In several papers written on the drought, Garnachuk says that underground aquifers in northern Crimea are being filled with salty water from the Sivash, or the "Rotten Sea," a cluster of shallow, noisome lagoons that separates the peninsula from mainland Ukraine.
Pro-Russian Crimean officials and experts admit that parts of northern Crimea are already turning into salt marshes because the drought raises underground salts deposits to the surface.
Putin is adamant about Crimea being an "inalienable" part of Russia, and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, seems no less determined to use any means necessary to complicate Kremlin's plans on the annexed peninsula.
"Nobody is going to save Crimea," Garnachuk said. "Ukraine understands that water supply is a critical problem for Crimea, and they will maximally complicate irrigation, nobody is going to resume [the water flow to the North Crimean Canal]."
Mansur Mirovalev is a Moscow-based writer and video journalist who covers wars and peace in the former Soviet Union.
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