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Dam cascade on the Belaya river
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Information on Dam Construction in a Russian Nationalpark on the Belaya River  state November 1999 

translated by Alfred Olfert, ERN responsible for collaboration with Eastern Europe and Eurasia  documents by Greenpeace Russia, are annexed on page 2 

In cooperation with:
Collaboration Centreof the"Volga - Ural Network"  
Russian Rivers Network
Help the River Volga
Greenpeace Russia 


  • Dam Construction in a Russian Nationalpark on the Belaya River 
  • The wildest and most untouched stretch of the Belaya River indangered
  • Regulation of the Belaya River will show effects at the alluvial plain downstream. 
  • The idea of the projects has been existing for several years 
  • Main official arguments in favour of the Dam
  • Some disapproval from the rational point of view 
  • The construction of the "Yumagusinsky Dam"  is violating the current legislation 
  • The cascade of dams - a time bomb 
  • Construction work is being continued in spite of illigality

  • Page 2 - annexes

    Information on Dam Construction in a Russian Nationalpark on the Belaya River 

    According to the October 1st, 1998 decision of the ministers cabinet of the Republic of Bashkiria (Russia) NR 5-40r the planning and exploration for the Yumagusinsky (Ishtungansky) Dam have begun. 
    This huge reservoir will flood natural areas of all European importance, will cause big danger for the downstream laying municipalities but will solve the actually allegedly existing problems of water supply only to a certain extend. 
    The Prasident of the Republic of Bashkortostan M. G. Rahimow has ordered the administration and the scientific planning administrations to complete the preparations within a limited time frame and to start the construction work. He considers the project to be one of the most important for the next time. 
    At the moment the construction of the Yumagusinsky (Ishtungansky) Dam is underway at full speed. 

    The project will destroy the wildest and most untouched stretch of the Belaya River
    This territory is one of the most valuable natural areas not only in Russia but in all of Europe. Here you find the National Park "Bashkiria" and the Natural Reserve "Shulgun Tash". The territory is further recognised as a "Globally Important Bird Area" and was even proposed for the UNESCO "Natural Word Heritage Area" list as the "Bashkirian Ural" (this application was rejected). 
    Some basic characteristics of the Belaya valley and the surrounding areas along the affected stretch of 150km between the village Kutanowo to the village Werhnebikkuzino: 
    Considerable sections of old forests has remained. Woods along the river are so called water protection forests and have not been harvested/cleared for a long period of time. Most likely this is the reason for the high level of the developed biodiversity. 
    1.At adjacent territories you find the heart of the Bashkirian wild bee population. This is the only place word-wide where the ancient bee keeping method has survived. 

    2.Here you find the densest population of the falcon Falco peregrinus all over Europe - pairs sit every 0,5 to 1,5 km, which besides is the biggest brooding population all over Europe - counting 60 pairs (1% of the entire European population). 
    3.Here brood about 130 pairs of the eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) (1% of the entire European population and at the same time the strongest population of this owl in Europe) with a Europe-wide unprecedented density of 10 to 16 pairs par 100 km². 
    4.Here are concentrated the biggest brooding groups of the Aquila chrysaetos  in the European part of Russia, and besides about 20 pairs of Circaetus gallicus, about 15 pairs of the Pandion haliaetus, being at the same time the strongest grouping of this species in the Ural mountains. All this species are registered in the Red Book of Russia. 
    5.Here brood globally rare species registered by the Red Books of IUCN and Russia Haliaeetus albicilla, Aquila heliaca, Aquila clanga, Circus macrourus Falco naumanni (the last being on the brink of become extinct in the European part of Russia). 
    6.Only here hibernate the local population of the Hucho taimen and you find a concentration of more than 100 bears (Ursus arctos) in the dens. Here is developed a large abundance of chalky caves which in winters are crowded by the third of the entire bat population of the southern Ural counting 7 species. 
    To construct the cascade of dams would mean the destruction of the habitat for the said and  several thousand further species. Old forests would be cleared off or flooded (as experienced in the case of the Nugushsky Dam). Therefore the hydrological regime and the humidity at all will change in an unforeseeable way. Consequences will turn out by heavily  affecting the Bashkirian wild bee population, the population of the Hucho taimen will die out, populations of the brook trout will be separated. 
    This list of animals and sights that will be lost for the mankind can be continued. For a long and narrow valley is a rather important component of the ecosystem. Its flooding would be a too high price fo4r achieving a rather doubtful goal . 

    Regulation of the Belaya River will show effects at the alluvial plain downstream. 
    The wetland complexes further downstream are also of great importance. Here is the habitat of the Corncrake (Red Book IUCN) - not less than 1 000 pairs , Oystercatcher (Red Book of RF) - about 200 to 3000 pairs, Spotted eagle (Red Books of IUCN and RF)- 6 pairs, Common crane, as well there are to be found large colonies of gulls and grebes (some of the species are even registered by the Red Book of RB). The absence of continual and large high water events will cause a drying up of the alluvial valley and therefore a transformation of the wetlands. This will lead to a further loss in numbers and at some places to a vanish of Corncrake, Spotted eagle, Common crane and bird colonies living along river banks in a large area. 
    The rising of the average water level in the River by at least 5cm will flood suiting brooding places for the Oystercatcher and this species will vanish, too. 

    The idea of a dam in the middle course of the Belaya River has been existing for more than one decade. 
    Most likely  this idea was born in the mid 70ies when a project named "Ishtungansky Dam" was prepared and considerable resources where spent at the erection of  the workers village "Yumagusino", when several quarries where laid out and the construction work had begun. At that time it was planned to create one reservoir with a capacity of 3km³ and an expanse of more that 150 km². The villages Ishtunganovo, Werhnebikkusino and others where to be flooded. But a strong public resistance and a negative assess from the state authorities had stopped this ridiculous attempt. 
    But now, in summer of 1998, Bashkiria has returned to this idea. 
    August 28th the President of the Republic of Bashkortostan has visited the Kugarchinsky region to acquaint with the state at the construction site of the Ishtungansky dam “-Here was originally planned a big building scheme, that was stopped in the years 1990 to 91- he said - If that would not have happened we now would have a wonderful reservoir. ... Now we have looked where we can continue the construction work... In Spring we will start. ... In the course of 2 to 3 years the construction will be finished... This will be a whole complex of hydro plants that will include 3 hydro power stations." 
    (News Paper of the Maleuzovsky region "Put Oktjabrja" Nr.107-108  September, 1st 1998) 

    Main official arguments in favour of the construction of the Yumagusinsky Dam
    The official version talks about an aggravated problem of water deficit in the region - especially in periods of low water levels, which disturbs the function of the pump stations along the river bank. 
    It is assumed that the solution to this problem shell be a cascade of three reservoirs at the Belaya River, being able to solve up to 70% of the existing problems. All together the three dams will store up about 2km³ of high water outlet and gradually release the stock during low water periods raising the water level in the river and thus providing the downstream pump stations with water. Besides the integrated hydropower units will generate estimated 127 million kWh annually. 

    Some disapproval from the rational point of view 
    Here an excerpt from the explanation notes to the project "First objects of the preparation period of the construction of the Ishtungansky Dam at the Belaya River in the Autonomous Socialistic Republic of Bashkiria" (by YushGiProVodHoz, 1993): 
    "Choosing the site of a possible dam construction five alternatives where reviewed: the narrownesses of Hudajberdinsky, Ishtungansky, Akavasovsky, Kusnecovsky and Akbulatovsky, as well the possibility of building a cascade of several small objects in the area of the settlement Kuznecovo and the village Akbulatovo was considered... 
    The Akavasovsky, Kusnecovsky and Akbulatovsky narrownesses where rejected because of difficulties in means of access, the necessity of taking measures against foreseeable processes on the chalky formation and the protection of a unique stalactite cave from being flooded." 
    All new is the well forgotten old - as a Russian proverb says. At the moment in the context of the planned cascade of three reservoirs again exactly the above mentioned three narrownesses are being discussed. Those three that have been rejected even according to the rather antiquated guidelines of the at that time responsible authority "Minvodhoz" and recognized to be even more barbaric and less effective than the "Ishtunganovsky Dam". But originally it was exactly the "Ishtunganovsky Dam" to be disapproved because of ecological reasons - this is admitted even by the Bashkirian authorities. 
    Really it is not the electric power that makes the project necessary - in the period of economic decline it is rather unlikely that the investments would pay for themselves. Thus the main reason is the regulation of the outlet regime of the river. 
    The urgency of the water supply problem for the Sterlitamak agglomeration in the period of economic decline arouses certain doubts. For example (according to the data delivered by the State Water Register in 1997) - non of the cities said to be so much suffering from water shortage has explored the limits of water delivery. The city of Sterlitamak has used 128,81 million km³ of the approved 152,73. 
    It also causes doubts that the problem of water pollution can be solved by constructing the "Yumagusinsky Dam". It would be much more sensible to invest this huge resources into the inauguration of water treatment plants.  The water discharged into the Belaya River are all not sufficiently treated, 30% of them being not treated at all (Water Register 1997). Besides of that the upstream situated city of Belolipetsk is discharging per year about 33 km³ of untreated waste water into the river - this would be enough to fill up all three planned reservoirs 16,5 times annually. This water (again according to the State Water Register 1997) contains 246,78t of nitrates, 16,30t of phosphorus in general, 18,57t of iron, 0,73t of zinc, 0,70t of nickel, 28,61t of manganese and a lot of other substances. 
    The reservoirs will become odd mud pits for the companies of Belolipetsk. In the period of low water discharge from the reservoirs many polluting substances will concentrate in the stored water to be than released downstream during low water periods. This way will be solved the water supply of the cities situated further downstream like Sterlitamak, Salavat, Ishimbaj, Melejs. 
    The fight against the floods will hardly be successful since the capacity of the reservoirs will not be enough to hold back at least one tenth of the annual high water and annual let throughs will be necessary any way. 

    The construction of the "Yumagusinsky Dam" and in general the beginning of planning process without a decision of the Federal level is violating the current legislation of the Russian Federation (RF) and the Republic of Baschkortostan (RB):
    In particular are violated: The Water code (RF) (page 36), the Constitution (RF) , the Agricultural code (RF) (page 90), the "Environmantal Protection Law" (RF) (page 60, page 61 §5, page 63 §3, page 65) and the Ecological code (RB), the Law "About the Especially Protected Areas" (page 9, page 15 §2 b, c), the Law "About Living Creatures" (RF) (page 20, page 24), the Forestry code (RF) (page 63), the Law "About the Ecological Assessment” (page 11). Also the decision of the Ministers Cabinet of the Republic of Bashkortostan NR 5-40r from October, 1st 1998 and the resolution of the Ministers Cabinet of the Republic of Bashkortostan NR 293 from December, 21st 1998 are violating current Russian legislation. (list to be continued - see annexes) 

    The cascade of dams will be a time bomb due to the complicated geological structure, the relief and the hydrological regime of the region. 
    Here are developed chalky formations. This is underlined by the occurrence of the world known stalactite cave "Kytyk Sumgan" and others (by the way, these are as well in danger of being flooded). Uncountable crevices, rips and caves run through the rocky slopes that restrict the valley of the Belaya river. 
    Following the raising of the water level in the reservoirs - in the lower one up to 50 to 60m -  the ground water level will raise as well. During low water the water level will annually drop by 40 to 50m to the minimum mark. This will have heavy impacts. It is as well possible that water will seep through at the sides of the dam using crevices and rips in the rock. But in any case washing out processes in the chalky formations will be intensified, unforeseeably will change the pressure and flow of groundwater. Likely are caving ins of cavities in the rocky formations, the sliding of geological layers and other effects - all together that means that the dam cascade may cause micro earthquakes. The maximal water level in the dam under construction is 10 m higher that that of the "Nugushsky Dam" 10 km further to the north - a part of the water may be re-routed there. 
    The hydrological regime of mountain waters like it is the Belaya river are unforeseeable and complicated. A low water level after a dryness can change to a high water caused by heavy rains within days or even hours. This way in 1994 the small Tirljansky reservoir on a tributary broke and even that rather small occurrence has claimed human lives. 
    It is easy to imagine what would happen if the Yumagusisky Dam breakes and a flood wave with the height of an 8 floors high-rise goes down onto further downstream situated villages and towns: The estimations for the flood wave have showed that it will reach the city of Sterlatamak within 26 to 29 hours, all together 84 villages and towns would be affected ("Environmental Impact Estimation of the Yumagusinsky Dam", page 62, Ufa 1999, RB). 
    The risks of a dam break is unforeseeable high. This is as well admitted by the planner groop of the dam. The geologist in chief has expressed the unsuitability of the given narrowness - but others simply do not exist. 

    Nevertheless the construction work is being continued.
    The planners have arrived at the site and started their work already in September of 1998, even before the Bashkirian Ministers Cabinet could take its decision NR 5-40r about the beginning of the planning process. The roads were widened and an asphalt surface put on them, electric wires were led to the construction site. A temporary dam were constructed cross the river to serve as a ford for heavy technology. The clearing of the forest has begun - at the beginning of August already 60he were cleared. Off  the settlement Kuznezowsky the ground was removed down to the bare rock at a surface area of more than 70he. Workers have begun to blow up portions of the rock. A temporary settlement for the workers was erected as well as a parking site for the technology and other structures. At the moment more than 100 people are occupied at the construction site supported by more than 50 pieces of various technological tools (like heavy trucks "BelAS", excavators and other). The construction work goes on in two shifts. 
    The construction work has already destroyed resp. will destroy during the next months 1 nest of the Imperial eagle, 1 nest of the Spotted eagle, a colony of Lesser’s kestrel’s (globally rare species, Red Books of IUCN, RF and RB), 1 nest of the Golden eagle, 1 nest of the Short-toed eagle, 2 nests of the Peregrine, 3 nests of the eagle-owl (Red Books of RF and RB) and 3 hibernation places of more than 1 000 bats. 
    The only authority that still puts up a fight against the ongoing barbarism is the State Commission for Ecology of the RF. In April one of its representatives has visited the site, has put up a file and has ordered to temporarily suspend the construction. This was not of any effect. During the second visit in August of 1999 the inspector found the order not complied with as a consequence of which the bank account of the "Yumagusinsky Dam Ltd." was frozen and a fine laid upon its chairman. Besides the Russian "Public Prosecutor's Office" after numerous inquiries has now declared that legal proceedings against the Ministers Cabinet of the RB will be initiated soon. Thus in Moscow there is no doubt that the construction work at the Belaya River will soon come to an end. 
    But in Ufa the things is looked at differently. The planning for the "Yumaguzinsky Dam" is completed. As next step the project has to pass the EIA. But they have forgotten that a federal area, as it is the National Park "Bashkiria" claims for a federal EIA. The Russian State Commission on Ecology is neither informed about the complete project, nor they know anything about the already formed group of experts who have practically begun the Assess. To make things as legal as possible even an "independent" public commission was appointed (!). For all this are released considerable financial resources and the result is quite predictable. 
    In the bashkirian mass media is kindled a campaign in fond of the dam. The attempts to inform the public about the real state of the project and the circumstances are being harshly denied. In addition the republican agency of the Federal Security Service has joined the republican side. 
    Until now only very few people and scientists have expressed their protest. Signatures have been gathered and public meetings of directly affected people have been held. Unfortunately the current political situation has not allow to raise the voice so every body could hear it. 
    To know, how to help and forfurther information please contact the
    European River Network 
    Alfred Olfert: alfred.olfert at ern.org 
    8, Rue Crozatier 
    F - 43000 Le Puy / France 

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