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Basics. What is a river, a living River?
About RiverNet and ERN
By Sergej Schafarenko, "Cultural and Ecological Association
(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
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".
P.O. Box 2853
Auezova Prospect NR 20/1-82
tel: (3232) 21-72-75 or 25-72-94
e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
European Rivers Network
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.