How citizens of Nizhnekamsk lived without clean water till 2000s

A water treatment plant was launched in the petrochemical capital of Tatarstan 12 years ago, now even the tap water is safe to drink

The chosen limit and impossibility of connecting new blocks of flats and factories to water supply, dependence on water supplies from another city, Naberezhnye Chelny… The situation by the end of the second millennium in the third-biggest city of Tatarstan, the largest industrial centre of the republic in Nizhnekamsk resembled a social catastrophe and seemed almost unsolvable. Realnoe Vremya talked how bad everything with potable water was in the petrochemical capital of the republic in the first part of the cycle. In part two, we will be talking about how an urban water treatment plant was built and what still needed to be done so that citizens of Nizhnekamsk did not have to suffer without basic comforts.

Means, site, technology — nothing existed at first

Nizhnekamsk is a young, constantly growing city. There were negative dynamics in population growth only for seven years in its more than half-a-century history. And if citizens of Nizhnekamsk totalled just 38 people in 1967, the population of the city already amounted to 195,000 by 1990 and 222,000 in 1999. A shortage of potable water was one of the key stumbling blocks at the turn of centuries and millennia. There wasn’t enough water even for already built buildings and operating factories. The water delivered via two worn-out steel pipelines from the lorry manufacturing city, which as many kilometres away, had to be diluted with clarified non-potable water to increase its volume somehow. This resulted in growth of different diseases and reasonable dissatisfaction of the population.

“It is true. I was a deputy then, while Ilsur Metshin was our mayor, I was in the commission for the environment, health care and water supply too. We went to different sites, looked them over,” says Nizhnekamsk cardiologist and member of the Public Council of Nizhnekamsk Municipal District Raisa Meryaseva. And they had to see and hear different things — different hues of running tap water — from opaque to brownish and black due to rust — and hear out numerous complaints and fair claims from people.

Local authorities made a decision to design and build a water treatment plant as early as 1996, but the issue stalled because of a lack of money and insufficient organisation of construction works. First President of Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiyev personally took control over the issue by the turn of the millennium. A decree of the Tatarstan Cabinet of Ministers On Reconstruction of Water Treatment Plant of the 3rd Water Lift and Water Supply System in Nizhnekamsk was signed by the prime minister of Tatarstan on 28 January 1999.

It was considered several sources of funding would be used in the construction: the republican budget was ready to pay 40%, the remaining 60% would be paid by enterprises and organisations of Nizhnekamsk, first of all, Nizhnekamskneftekhim and Tatneft. Nizhnekamskneftekhim, which came under TAIF GC, was to become the customer. Understanding the importance and necessity of building such a facility as water treatment plant despite the tough economic situation that most of the enterprises faced at that time, officials of the backbone complex supported the project from the very first days and almost committed themselves to key moments from choosing the optimal site to building the WTP.

“They wanted to build the plant in Shipbuilding Grove first, on the Kama River bank. But engineers calculated it was economically unfeasible. So they decided to modernise the plant at the third water lift (Editor’s Note: Krasny Klyuch Water Intake of Nizhnekamskneftekhim). Due to a 60-metre difference in altitude, water got to the city almost on its own, which significantly simplified the water supply system and reduced the cost of equipment, expenses on electrical energy, that’s to say, the sum of future tariffs,” said head of the Administration of Water Supply, Sewerage and Sewage Treatment of Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC, board member of WTP-NKNK PJSC Sergey Boyarkin explained how the site for the future water treatment plant was chosen.

Choosing treatment technology was the next important issue to resolve. The Kama River’s water wasn’t perfect feedstock to produce drinking water. The technological load on the water body was too heavy. And it wasn’t about factories of Nizhnekamsk only. A number of big industrial centres were located upstream — in Perm Krai, Bashkortostan. And sewage treatment there was far from being treated as it was done by Nizhnekamskneftekhim and TAIF-NK. This is why when terms of reference were created, it was determined that Nizhnekamsk needed the best equipment and best technologies existing in the world. Groups of NKNK specialists did inquiry and headed to study experience in leading water treatment plants of Russia.

Plenty of options were considered. The representatives of Tatarstan travelled across most of Russia studying technologies that had already been introduced and their practical experience. A lot of effort had to be put to exclude speculators who tried to make money by offering obsolete, ineffective, debatable technologies and equipment disguised as the latest development. The first Tatarstan president’s support played a big role. Mintimer Shaimiyev, who chaired the Ministry of Land Development and Water Development of the Tatar ASSR in 1969-1983, was in the know, so to speak, and recognised TAIF’s proposal to create a completely new — combined — system that would unite the best experiences effective.

In March 1999, Nizhnekamskneftekhim advanced money to create a working draft of the water treatment plant with a capacity of 125,000 cubic metres a day. Specialists of the leading specialised research institute Soyuzvodokanalproject of the State Committee for Construction of the Russian Federation were tasked with the job.

First in Russia

The comparison of terms of reference and the customer’s wishes as well as data on composition and quality of Kama water, which was to become feedstock for production, grew into a unique project, which didn’t have analogues in Russia, that united the most effective equipment and technologies to a five-stage treatment system. Some links of the chain were already successfully tested in other cities of Russia, including in Moscow, but such a combination and complementation of each other was created precisely in Nizhnekamsk — by Nizhnekamskneftekhim.

WTP-NKNK is 35 kilometres of underground pipelines connecting almost 30 frames of the plant on the surface making a system. Over 80 pumps making treated water, which passes through 12 sets of thin floc-forming sections, reagent dispensing units, rapid sand and coal filters, circulate in the “arteries” of the WTP. The system’s operation was reliable because of a special device designed and delivered by Schneider Electric, dry-type distribution transformers, that’s to say, oil was not used. It is 75 km of digital control and communication cables and modern automatic distributed control system by Siemens that help manage operations. Test points equipped by Endress&Hauser, Vega and Krone strictly monitored and controlled the quality of water that came in and out. This is a plant that was to be built by the end of the construction. While the construction of the first venue — clean water reservoirs — began in July 1999 after the drafts were signed. Almost 8 years of work were ahead.

Perhaps only those who participated in the construction of the water treatment plant and TAIF officials were aware of the effort and money it cost. They had to almost leave the factory without staff for several years in a row (from 2001 to 2007): up to half of the staff of the complex erected the third water intake and supply lines to the future WTP-NKNK. During those years, investments in fixed assets considering major overhaul, mainly the construction of the plant, considerably exceeded even not profit but margin, that’s to say, the sum before taxes, interest and amortisation.

“In early 2007, Prime Minister of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov signed a decree on transfer of the construction of the facility to Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC, TAIF GC and announced the deadline: the decree was signed in February, and they had to complete all construction and assembly works and put WTP-NKNK into operation till the end of the year,” Rustam Akhmetov who was the director general of WTP-NKNK from spring 2007 to early 2018 shared his memories.

Nizhnekamskneftekhim Water Treatment Plant CJSC was created in April 2007. Rustam Akhmetov who was working in the Administration of Water Supply, Sewerage and Sewage Treatment at NKNK and just completed his training in a presidential programme for managers chaired the new structure and began to employ staff. Most people came from Nizhnekamskneftekhim’s services. And every new employee immediately joined the work. Little time left to the launch, while a lot still had to be done.

“When I was at the helm of the plant and employed people in the team in April 2007, the readiness of facilities was about 70%. All frames were erected, equipment was purchased, it had to be assembled, supply lines had to be laid, the territory had to be improved… Electricity supply was created almost from scratch: we obtained all necessary permission, laid cable lines, connected everything. Nizhnekamskneftekhim rendered big help in this issue. We did a big job together with NKNK’s property management administration in April to create constitutional documents, register WTP-NKNK CJSC. Then a big job was done together with the financial administration. We took out loans to complete the construction with NKNK as security (300 million rubles), in November we took out another 60 million. Nizhnekamskneftekhim’s services helped us in the process and at all stages: the chief mechanical office, chief energy office… The facilities of the WTP were distributed to NKNK’s plants by the launch at the Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC director general’s command. I mean isolation valves, pumps, power units and electrical units were examined. Over 2,500 tonnes of quartz sand, about 900 tonnes of activated carbon were uploaded. All the construction was under strict control. The construction staff had daily briefings, an extended briefing of the staff with officials of NKNK, the mayor of Nizhnekamsk and a representative of the contractor general was held once a week. There was no time to relax. Our work was hard and interesting,” Rustam Akhmetov remembers.

“We had a mood of a real Komsomol construction project during those six months from early morning to late at night. People almost lived, worked, built here. They solved problems when connecting unusual equipment, supplying water from water intake, connecting heating and electrical mains. The staff had training — those who were going to work here,” veteran of the enterprise Razilya Khasveyeva repeats his words.

20 November 2007

TAIF’s business partners know that if the Group of Companies made a promise, the promise will be kept in full and on time. It has always been this way. The construction of the Nizhnekamsk water treatment plant isn’t an exception. WTP-NKNK was ready to be put into operation on 20 November 2007. The plant began its operation much earlier, in fact. Mintimer Shaimiyev, the first president of Tatarstan, Sergey Ivan, then-first vice board chairman of the Russian Federation, Aleksandr Konovalov, then-plenipotentiary ambassador of the Russian president in the Volga Federal District, Albert Shigabutdinov, then-director general of TAIF JSC, board chairman of Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC, Vladimir Busygin, then-director general of Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC, Aydar Metshin, head of Nizhnekamsk Municipal District, and others participated in the launching ceremony.

“It is especially important to provide a good environment in such an industrial centre. I am very pleased that thanks to the joint effort of the federal centre, republican authorities and, of course, the private business, we created such a modern, environmentally friendly water treatment enterprise. From today, all citizens of Nizhnekamsk will open the tap and may not care about what’s running from it,” Sergey Ivanov noted at the WTP’s launching ceremony in 2007.

“Intensive development of the economy of our republic depends on industrial development. At this stage, we are pinning our hopes on the development of petrochemistry. Sustainable economic development, high quality of life and health of our people can be provided at the same time only if natural systems are conserved and the required quality of the environmental, consumed food is maintained. Both the state and businesses are responsible for this. It is our common concern. A long-awaiting event has taken place — we are launching the new water treatment plant. From today, citizens of Nizhnekamsk will have clean water meeting all requirements of Sanitary Rules and Norms for Potable Water. I am sincerely congratulating you on such an important acquisition and wish you health, well-being and success,” Mintimer Shaimiyev addressed participants of the meeting.

Aleksandr Konovalov, in turn, stressed:

“Cooperation of businesses and authorities today isn’t defined as ‘the social responsibility of a business’, which became habitual. It is a normal, modern, pragmatic approach of large entrepreneurship to the set-up of the economy on the territory when businesses care about not only profit, production development but also those conditions in which people working in these enterprises, their families live, those that surround the infrastructure of the enterprise. I believe that Tatarstan can be a good example both for other Volga regions and other regions of the country.”

And head of the district Aydar Metshin thanked the officials of the federal centre, republic as well as investors and constructors on behalf of all Nizhnekamsk citizens:

“The launch of the water treatment plant is an event that all Nizhnekamsk and citizens of Nizhnekamsk had been waiting for. There hadn’t been another facility in the last decade we had been looking forward to this way.”

No need to boil water

“Our water treatment plant is one of a kind. It’s all thanks to the five-stage treatment system. For instance, ultraviolet disinfection allows getting rid of 100% of viruses if feed water contains them. Water is also processed with reagents, treated with highly effective coagulants and flocculants, water goes through filters with quartz sand from Khrustalnaya Mountain. Organoleptic properties improve thanks to coal filters, which are the most effective in water treatment. It is also important that coal filters prevent the appearance of phenols, oil products, surfactants in the water. The use of coal filters (we have 12) is an expensive pleasure. Each one is worth 13 million rubles,” Director of WTP-NKNK Aleksandr Gnedenkov talked about the technology used and treatment stages.

When we talk about what else is at stake — provision of all Nizhnekamsk with high-quality drinking water such as a lot of blocks of flats and more than 250,000-million population, social institutions like kindergartens, schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, uninterrupted operation of enterprises and companies, it is clear that money can’t be saved here. And TAIF GC has been investing in the latest upgrade of equipment and replacement of filters, in fact, investing in Nizhnekamsk’s development since the water treatment plant was launched. Experts note that the launch of the water treatment plant gave a new impulse to Tatarstan’s petrochemical capital, made the city much more attractive to live, work and develop a business. The population’s constantly steady growth proves this statement is true too.

About 70,000 cubic metres of river water from the Kama River goes to the plant every day. All the water is treated well. A laboratory equipped with the top staff and state-of-the-art equipment controls the quality and level of processes at every stage — from water discharge to water supply to consumers. The examination includes 77 parameters — from colour and dullness to chemical, organoleptic and microbiological indicators. The head of the enterprise is a hundred per cent sure of the quality the population is provided with. If somebody has doubts, he is ready to drink a cup of tap water at any moment and in any flat.

For many, drinking the tap water already became a common thing. For instance, Fagima Sibgatullina. The woman works in medicine and knows for sure what is harmful and what’s not:

“We have been living in Nizhnekamsk since 1975. I was 12 when we moved here. I remember when we opened the tap in the morning, it smelled like chlorine. And now, when the WTP was built, water is better, cleaner, tastier. When you open the tap in the morning, the water that’s running is even silver. I try to drink tap water every morning. When the water treatment plant was built, the quality of water improved. There is no rust, I can’t say anything bad about it. Compared to other cities, our water is even tastier. We waited for the WTP to open, it is very good for us that the treatment is so good there,” she is convinced.

“We even did analyses — we compared drinking water that goes from our plant to the network with bottled first and supreme category water. Our water is between the first and supreme categories,” his predecessor in the director’s chair in the plant Rustam Akhmetov added.

“With the launch of WTP-NKNK, the rate of intestinal infections in the city fell by 30%. Also, the water became not only safer but better in composition. It conserves all beneficial microelements water contains. The same filters offered today produce bottled water, in fact, — there aren’t salts, nothing. It is also bad. Organism receives all necessary substances that participate in the construction of our body and provide our organism with liveability from water. In this respect, everything is quite good. There is a balance of necessary microelements. All unnecessary things are eliminated, all necessary things remain. Such technologies are needed precisely for this. There is no need to boil this water, it is safe,” Director of the regional office of consumer safety watchdog Rospotrebnadzor of the Republic of Tatarstan in Nizhnekamsk District and Nizhnekamsk Rustem Iziyatullin expressed his opinion.

“I never drink water from a well. It contains a lot of sediment. I drink tap water. The water is good,” Nizhnekamsk’s old-timer Fanuziya Zagidullina confirms his words. She arrived here with her husband in 1967 to build the growing city. Then she participated in the erection of that third water intake, which feeds WTP-NKNK today. “Our water is much better than water supplied from another city, which is tens of kilometres away,” the woman is sure. And many are ready to agree with her.

TAIF GC: WTP-NKNK’s activity is still supported

The project on construction and launch of the Nizhnekamsk Water Treatment Plant in general cost more than 2 billion rubles. Part of the money was allocated by local, republican and federal budgets, another part was given by subdivisions of Tatneft PJSC. But the biggest amount — over a half — was invested by TAIF Group of Companies in the person of Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC. And the support still goes on.

“The first year of operation, in 2008, was quite tough. The tariff didn’t even cover our costs, and we ended the first year with a loss at about 70 million rubles. In 2009 when it was discussed how to help the plant, Nizhnekamskneftekhim as the biggest water consumer among enterprise agreed with the committee on tariffs not to raise tariffs for the population but increase the price for industrial enterprises. In 2009, the tariff was raised for enterprises from 16 to 35 rubles per cubic metre. Later, when the WTP fixed the situation, the tariff for industrial enterprises began to reduce too. Now it is 30 rubles,” ex-Director of WTP-NKNK Rustam Akhmetov remembers.

And this is only a part of the support. Sergey Boyarkin representing Nizhnekamskneftekhim in the Board of Director of WTP-NKNK said what else TAIF Group of Companies did to provide an uninterrupted and good performance of the plant:

“We supply feedstock for the WTP. It is impossible to produce water without feedstock. It is also a tariff, it is acceptable in general. All systems of WTP-NKNK are connected to our systems via process communications, electrical energy, steam, sewerage. Also, we provide electrical energy, receive their sewage, treat it, interact with utility networks. Besides financing, the staff also comes from NKNK. Our employees built all this technology. All services supervise it — it is the environmental protection service, the chief energy office, legal office… Nizhnekamskneftekhim supervises the operation of the WTP, takes care, helps determine its promising development.”

Alexander Gnedenkov, the current head of the water treatment plant, told Realnoe Vremya about the plans for the future:

“We have developed a very important programme for the period up to 2022 — SOV Modernization. This is the programme for the reconstruction of high-rate trickling and carbon filters. This is a very large investment — replacing all carbon within three years. Eleven filters will be replaced in the coming years out of 12 existing ones. It's very costly. TAIF (Nizhnekamskneftekhim) invests money, takes care of the city's residents, and people's health. To ensure that reagents are used as effectively as possible at the SOV, we spent a whole year conducting a technological audit with the services of the research and development centre of Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC. Much research work has been done. The audit gave us an idea of how we should work in the future, how many reagents to use depending on the contamination of the Kama River.

The replacement of carbon filters alone will require about 143 million rubles. Besides, it is planned to reconstruct the river water pump. In these matters, SOV-NKNK counts on the help of Nizhnekamskneftekhim. There are plans to increase the supply of clarified process water to the production facilities of Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC.

“The majority of people do not understand how the budget is formed, do not understand how much businesses pay, where they pay. Even less people know about their charitable programmes. Maybe it's just because companies don't advertise their good deeds. But this is billions of rubles annually. The newly built BTF by Nizhnekamskneftekhim is an example of it. There are very few cities in Russia where a large enterprise would build and maintain urban treatment facilities, which is 300 million rubles annually. There is no such money in the budget of Nizhnekamsk. And the support of SOV-NKNH is also many millions of rubles," said Elena Gatina.

Updating and completing the ring of the conduit system

The water from SOV-NKNH runs clean, transparent, and safe. But it reaches the apartments of Nizhnekamsk residents not always as clean. From time to time in the city of petrochemists, there are again heard complaints that muddy, rusty liquid runs from the tap instead of drinking water.

“Our city has a fairly modern water treatment technology, modern treatment facilities and responsible staff, which today provides the supplies of high-quality, safe drinking water to the city," said Rustem Iziyatullin. Then he adds: “Over the past five years, we have not registered more than 1% of non-standard samples by microbiological indicators. In 2019, we did not have a single sample that would indicate that there were microbes in the water in Rospotrebnadzor.

You can trust the head of the territorial department of Rospotrebnadzor of the Republic of Tatarstan in Nizhnekamsk district and Nizhnekamsk at least because he has been heading the service in Nizhnekamsk since 2005 and remembers what the water had been like before the construction of the water treatment plant and how the situation changed after its launch. Besides, he is a frequent visitor to the station: quality control of the enterprise, which directly affects the health of the city's population, is its direct responsibility.

“It is good, of course, that water treatment was introduced, but the pipes remained the same," complains Elena Gatina, a local resident and member of the Public Council of Nizhnekamsk municipal district .

“Today, the water can also be muddy sometimes. This is due to steel pipelines. They must be replaced to polyethylene one," her council colleague Mansur Ganiev echoes her.

Unlike steel pipes, polyethylene and propylene pipes do not rust, do not react with chlorine, and do not collect sediment on the walls. And if steel pipes begin to demand attention in a few years, then plastic is guaranteed to last at least half a century without changing the characteristics and capacity.

“We have good, wonderful water, and according to ecologists, our indicators are among the best in Tatarstan. But as long as the water reaches the townspeople through rusty pipes, all these advantages come to naught. Today, of course, the water disposal system is repaired, and the situation has become better, but not all pipes have been changed yet, and therefore some people still complain that their water is rusty in their apartments," Raisa Meryaseva notes.

Obviously, they repair not everywhere and not very well. According to experts, the loss of water during transportation through the water pipelines of Nizhnekamsk reaches 30%. That's a lot. The reason is ruptures of old steel pipelines. It is not always easy to detect an emergency site quickly. And then consumers pay for the negligence of the city services.

“The problems with water flowing to the houses and apartments of Nizhnekamsk residents that exist now are primarily related to the existing city drainage system. It is the same age as the city," confirms Rustam Akhmetov, the ex-director of SOV-NKNH. The powers to repair, restore and maintain it are divided. There is a contractual relationship for the supply of drinking water between the SOV and the city's water utility. In the middle there is a cut-off — that is, the boundaries of the service responsibility. Those areas that belonged to the SOV, they have almost completely been put in order: major repairs have been carried out, somewhere — replacement. I looked at 2020, and let's say, 10-15 percent left there to replace, and that's fine. The rest is the city's.”

“It is necessary to change the pipes to polyethylene one so that there is no secondary contamination. In Naberezhnye Chelny, they all have been replaced, their water is cleaner. Sometimes it's a shame, we produce normal water, but at Vodokanal, repair work is underway, and rust enters the houses," the current director of the Nizhnekamsk water treatment plant, Alexander Gnedenkov, complemented the general opinion.

The interlocutors of Realnoe Vremya emphasize that they do not say that the city does nothing. On the contrary, a lot has been done in recent years: the water mains have already been replaced with modern, durable, safe ones that do not react with chlorine. However, there is still a lot to be done, but the city budget is limited. Old and remote districts still have to put up with that water reaches them through steel, long-rusted pipes, which also need to be changed. Moreover, it is not enough just to remove the old and lay new pipelines. The city needs a ring system of water supply, such that in Nizhnekamsk there would be no points of “stagnation” and dead ends, Iziyatullin believes.

Another weak point is the apartment buildings themselves. Replacing water pipes inside buildings is the responsibility of property management companies. But not all of them are conscientious about performing their duties. As Rustem Idiyatullin told, Rospotrebnadzor is looking out for them, and there have accumulated a lot of claims. In 2019 alone, 36 administrative cases were initiated against the management companies of Nizhnekamsk.

By Arseny Favstritsky, Liliya Yegorova