30 september 2020

Central Asia news

Koksaray Water Reservoir Project Continues To Attract Heated Debate

08.07.2008 21:13 msk

Irina Kazorina

Analytics Kazakhstan

Even as ceremonies launched the Koksaray water reservoir construction on June 25, controversy continues about the possible environmental impact of the project. The reservoir, to be built in southern Kazakhstan, will offer control over the flow of the Syrdarya River. Opponents fear that the major river that feeds the dying Aral Sea might become shallow due to the reservoir, causing a vast region to suffer unknown consequences.

Kazakhstan have been trying to augment its water problems, caused by its sitting downstream on the Syrdarya River, by constructing the Koksaray water reservoir, a project that has been pending for ten years and finally was approved this spring [For additional information see the Ferghana.Ru archive ].

Goals of the project include having the Koksaray reservoir being used to prevent winter flooding in the southern regions and increase control over crop irrigation in the dry summer seasons.

During Soviet times when the two countries upstream, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and those downstream, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, were part of the same country, water flow was regulated from one political center. This gave those countries downstream a more or less fair distribution of water during the summer. In exchange for the water assistance, compensation to upstream republics was delivered in coal and oil for not releasing water from reservoirs during the winter.

Now, as each country must survive on its own and there is no compensation to energy-poor upstream states, the release of water for electricity production has become common in the winters, and so is downstream flooding. This year alone, floods threatened seventy villages in two southern regions of Kazakhstan.

In summers, the opposite problem now occurs as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have experienced shortages of water for irrigation of cotton, rice and wheat fields.

While reservoir construction appears to be a good solution to the problem, some fear it might significantly reduce water in the Syrdarya River, resulting in further reducing water for the Aral Sea area and irreversibly harming the climate.

The construction of a new basin has been heatedly debated in the Uzbek press. Further, the launching of the Koksaray project has demonstrated a lack of reflection and analysis by Kazakhstan as well as a similarly ineffective project in Uzbekistan, one of the local newspapers, the Zerkalo XXI Veka, writes.

Collecting flood-waters in the Arnasay hollow in Uzbekistan has had a dramatically negative impact on climate, the newspaper claims. The river has grown shallow, water in Arnasay is not able to be used for irrigation due to the high concentration of salt and hundreds of hectares of arable land have been lost.

The reported volume of the Koksaray reservoir will be three million cubic meters. Currently, the largest reservoir on the Syrdarya River is at Toktogul, Kyrgyzstan, which is more than 19 million cubic meters.

While a presidential endorsement of the reservoir seemed to have calmed the heated debate over the project, it has not quelled them completely.

“This is not an easy decision to commit ourselves to such a big and expensive project, however, we do not have another choice,” Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has said.

He calls Koksaray a social project, meaning there is no commercial motivation for it, but it is crucial to solving many problems.

Most scientists support the state’s decision, warning, though, that construction has to be done in collaboration with all Central Asian states and cannot be removed from a larger regional environmental context.

Kamitzhan Pulatov, advisor to the chairman of the Committee for Water Resources at the Kazakh Ministry of Agriculture, sees only one disadvantage to the project, and it is not ecology.

Pulatov thinks the price Kazakhstanies will have to pay for the reservoir is excessive. Today’s projected budget is 500 million US dollars, as opposed to 223 million dollars initially planned for construction of the reservoir.

Irina Kazorina