Dry river: catastrophic consequences on Volga River cannot be prevented?

The level of Kuybyshev Reservoir near Kazan has fallen to 50,1 metres on Friday

The water level in the Volga River in Kazan, according to data as of last Friday, has reached 50,10 metres — this is the absolute minimum of this season. Prior to this, according to the data obtained by Realnoe Vremya in the management of the Hydrometeorological Service of the Republic of Tatarstan, the record was considered to be on May 12 when the level fell to 50,12 metres. Why, despite the measures taken by the Interdepartmental working group on regulation of the reservoirs of the Volga-Kama cascade, the water has continued to leave the Volga River for almost two weeks and what consequences it threatens — read in our article.

Didn't know what they were doing?

On May 15, the Tatarstan Hydrometeorological Service issued a statement warning the media against reports that the lowest water levels in the Kuybyshev Reservoir have been reached at the moment — they say, this is not true. It also informed that the rising of water has already begun, and the minimum level of this year has already been passed — it amounted to 50,12 metres. However, on May 17 this 2019 record was broken — the water in the Volga River in Kazan fell to 50,10 metres.

The water began to actually rise only at the weekend.

“Now the water level near Kazan — 50,37 metres,” Aleksey Sokolov, the head of the Department of Hydrometeorological Service of the Republic of Tatarstan, told Realnoe Vremya. “Over the weekend, the level of the Kuybyshev Reservoir has risen by 27 centimetres, now the water is rising by 5 centimetres a day.”

Sokolov clarified that the situation changed after the drawdowns were completely finished, that is, its inflow into the reservoir began to consistently exceed its removing. So, according to him, the dam will operate until July 1 — then the water removing will begin again — as usual, by autumn.

The water level in the Volga River falls annually, and, as reported on the website of the Department of the Hydrometeorological Service of the Republic of Tatarstan, over the past 36 years there have been worse situations, “Lower water levels near Kazan in May were observed in 1973, 1989, 1996, when the minimum levels were 49,72 BES m, 49,94 BES m, 49,88 BES m.” Every year as a result of shallowing of the Volga River the fish died, but this year Rosrybolovstvo regarded the situation as catastrophic.

“We have worked since 1995 and the fall of the water level has never been so great, we expect losses,” said Tatiana Karaganova, the chief accountant at Krug PLC. “The fishing season has not been opened so far, so it is too early to make specific predictions, but due to the shallowing of the Volga River many fishing areas disappear, there is land instead of water now. Fish has nowhere to spawn, so it will be less, and they will be fished faster. You know, it's one thing to fish it in a large pond, another — in a puddle.”

“I believe that the situation has been caused by climatic conditions,” said Alexander Raikhshtat, the head of the department of construction and protection measures at Sredvolgavodkhoz FSI. “In recent years, the water level has been high, even the summer residents complained. But the winter was snowy, perhaps that's why it was decided to remove the water — the reservoir was released to receive surface runoff, but it did not come in the expected volumes.”

One of the reasons for the catastrophic consequences of this decision, as suggested by Raikhshtat, may be a simple lack of information among related departments and organizations about the situation from neighbours: everyone sees and solves their own problem, not anticipating all the consequences.

About how the Volga was drained

The Volga in Kazan is not the actual Volga River but Kuybyshev Reservoir. As the press service of the Tatarstan ministry of ecology told Realnoe Vremya, the mode of its operation is regulated by channelling water through the Zhiguli Hydroelectric Station. According to the data provided by the ministry, the sharp drop in the water level in the reservoir is the result of large volumes of water removing against the background of a slight increase in the inflow. On April 1, the removing (5249 m3/s) was almost a third higher than the inflow (3630 m3/s), and since April 24 the removing has consistently exceeded the inflow by almost half.

On 30 April, the difference between the removing and the inflow of water (in favour of water removing) reached 10698 cubic m/s. By this point, the Volga River receded from the shoreline so that the hidden for years shoals were exposed and the shallow waters dried up everywhere — spawning grounds of fish. Only since May 12, more water began to inflow than to outflow from the Kuybyshev Reservoir. At the same time, even now the water level in the Kuybyshev Reservoir near Kazan is three metres lower than a year ago. It is planned to exceed the inflow over the flow rate by 10,000 cubic metres per second only by May 21, and at the level of 52 metres — by June 9.

Late alarm

Logically, the alarm about the shallowing of the Volga in Tatarstan should have been raised in mid-April — finding that the water level noticeably fell above last year's level. But they did it only at the end of the month.

“The issues of regulating the level of the Kuybyshev Reservoir are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Water Resources Agency. The government of the republic, for its part, oversights this issue. On 29 April 2019, Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov sent a letter to Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology of the Russian Federation Dmitry Kobylkin with the request to revise the schedules of water inflow in the lower reaches of the Volga River,” Lilia Mulyukova, the head of the press service of the ministry of ecology of the Republic of Tatarstan told Realnoe Vremya. “On May 7, Tatarstan Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources Alexander Shadrikov brought the position of the republic on this issue to the participants of the Interdepartmental working group on regulation of reservoirs of the Volga-Kama cascade. As a result of the meeting, the duration and volume of fishery permits in connection with the completion of the high water in the Volga reservoirs and the low water inflow to the Kuibyshev Reservoir were adjusted downward.

Mulyukova stressed that the mode of operation of the Kuybyshev Reservoir depends not only on the situation on the environmental front:

“In the Interagency working group on regulation of work of reservoirs of the Volga-Kama cascade at the Federal Water Resources Agency, that makes the decisions, consists of the Federal Water Resources Agency and its territorial subdivisions, RusGidro PJSC, Tatenergo JSC, Russian Federal Fisheries Agency, Federal Agency for Maritime and River Transportation and the executive authorities of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation.”

“The fish died, but the increased removing began in February”

But it seems that measures to raise the water level are hopelessly late.

“The situation is critical, and there is no chance that it will improve because most fish species have already had caviar,” said Artem Konyshev, the co-chairman of the regional public organization Fishermen of Tatarstan to Realnoe Vremya. “Predators — pike, perch — completely died, pike perch — partially... Only bream did not have time to spent, but if in the next week or two the water does not rise they will also die.”

According to Konyshev, fish populations suffered irreparable damage: the lost generation of fish will not give offspring, which means that the fish will not appear in the coming years. It is possible to restore the fish stock only by artificial means, he says. In addition, the death of predators will lead to the destruction of the surviving non-poisonous species: the weak and sick will not be destroyed in a timely manner — as a result, diseases will spread.

According to the angler with 25-year experience, he has not seen such shallowing and such consequences of water removing before. In addition, he noted that the increased removing began in February:

“I was engaged in ice fishing and noticed that the current was unusually strong, it just indicates a high discharge.”

But the catch quota has been risen!

However, the catastrophic consequences of the shallowing of the Volga did not affect the quotas issued to Tatarstan by Rosrybolovstvo for industrial fishing.

“These figures are approved by the ministry of nature of Russia on the basis of research conducted by the State Research Institute of Lake and River Fisheries,” explained Press Secretary of the Committee on Biological Resources Ksenia Vanyukova.

The Tatarstan state committee on bioresources provided Realnoe Vremya with the data on the size of quotas for the Kuybyshev Reservoir. If in 2018 they were significantly reduced compared to 2017: from 3403,45 to 2980 thousand tonnes, then in 2019, on the contrary, they were raised above the five-year maximum. On the Kuybyshev Reservoir, now fishermen are allowed to produce 3523,1 thousand tonnes of fish. The question arises: where will it come from?

There is no water, but it exists there

Kazan Vodokanal is also not going to sound the alarm, despite the fact that the water level in the water intake area is low, and the sewage from the treatment facilities continue to flow to the Volga in the usual mode, that is, theoretically, creating an increased load on the biosystem of the river.

By Inna Serova