Logo RiverNet

by ERN 
European Rivers Network

Black Irtysh river indangered by irrigation channel


Information's on River basins, Projects
& Campaigns
 from Danube via Loire, Narmada , 

Three Gorges to Wolga..... 

Select in our worldwide list 

addresses and website

one of our publications

About Rivers
Basics. What is a river, a living River? 

Waterpolicy & Rivermanagment

Educational Projects

About RiverNet and ERN


By Sergej Schafarenko, "Cultural and Ecological Association Belovodie"
(Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakh Republic)
translation by Alfred Olfert, ERN

State November 1999

For several years China has been fostering the construction of the irrigation channel "Black Irtysh - Karamai". Its planned length is supposed to measure 300 km, its width 22m. The amount of water drown from the river in 2000 - the year of completion - shell be 5% of the annual run off. The drawings shell then in the following years rise up to 40% of the annual run off, which may cause the heaviest consequences for many ecosystems in a vast region of Kazhak Republic and Russia.
The Irtysh river is one of the big rivers in Asia measuring 4.284 km in length. Its first 500 km the river flows through China the next 1.700 km through Kazakh Republic and the last 2.000 km through Russia where the Irtysh flows into the Ob river. Currently the river serves as the main source for fresh water in the arid region of Kazakhstan and as well as an important waterway. The Irtysh river has also an importance for fishing. 
According to calculations of local specialists already a drawing of 6% of the current run off would mean harmful damage to the river ecology. Furthermore, dealing with this problem the long term cycle of the water household of the river has to be taken into account. At the moment the Irtysh river finds itself in a so called low water period that can easily go on for the next 10 to 20 years. Considering the fact that the current water household is already at the ecological limit the additional drawing of water on the projected measures would even double the reduction of the overall run off. First off all the Kazakh "Zaisan See" would be heavily affected. Drawings of water in the predicted measures would inevitably lead to a ecological catastrophe comparable to the Aral See. That's why an international independent commission is necessary in terms of performing an independent Ecological Impact Assessment. 
The specialists from the Kazakh "National Centre for Ecology" emphasise the following negative impacts:
1. The drawings of water from the Black Irtysh could seriously impede the control over the regional water resources and the water quality of the river.
2. Reducing the run off will automatically reduce the amount of water feeding the Zaisan See and the Buchtarminsk reservoir situated further downstream. Thus lowering the water level the natural balance would de disturbed. The banks of the see could turn to swamp land which would cause the death of many fishes, the destruction of brooding areas of the musk-rat and restrict the habitats of many wild species in the area.
3. The ecosystems of the river will be changed to the disadvantage of the self-cleaning ability of the river. This is especially of importance since the water coming down the river from China is already polluted by heavy metals, oil products and nitrates.
4. The lowered self-cleaning ability and the continuation of waste water discharges into the river by the existing sources of pollution in the towns Ust-Kamenogorsk, Leninogorsk, Syrjanowsk and Semipalatinsk will increase the degree of pollution of the Irtysh. This will worsen the already existing problems of fresh water supply of towns like Ust-Kamenogorsk, Semipalatinsk, Pawlodar, Karaganda, Omsk and other settlements in Kazakhstan and Russia that are dependent on the Irtysh water.
5. Furthermore the lowering of the water level in the Irtysh river could cause an additional aridisation of the region meaning among other negative impacts the decrease of soil wetness and lowered productivity of the soils thus causing a regular decrease of the annual crop and fostering the degradation of grazing land. All together this could lead to a desertification of the whole north eastern region of Kazakhstan.
At the moment negotiations are underway between Kazakh republic and China. But the outputs of these negotiations are being kept secrete. The Russian Ministry for Natural Resources has several times tried to get involved into the negotiations, but the attempts were denied. 
This problem is being approached by the "Cultural and Ecological Association Belovodje". 

Kazakh Republic
492024 Ust-Kamenogorsk
P.O. Box 2853
Auezova Prospect NR 20/1-82
tel: (3232) 21-72-75  or  25-72-94
e-mail : belov@sigma-east.com

European Rivers Network
Alfred Olfert
8, Rue Crozatier
F - 43000 France
e-mail: ern at rivernet.org

At the moment a movement for the protection of the Irtysh river is being formed by the "Cultural and Ecological Association Belovodje" in collaboration with the Russian Rivers Network. The "Cultural and Ecological Association Belovodje" is in charge of the problem and would be very thankful for any support, solidarity and interest. 
A digital version of the impact estimation carried out by the mentioned Kazakh "National Centre for Ecology" (Russian) is available in its full length by sending a request to "Belovodje" or ERN.


back to the Homepage

These pages and their content are © Copyright of European Rivers Network.
                                                                                                    For more information, remarks or propositions, send us a message !