Usurped river: natural disasters and departmental voluntarism on the Dniester River Print
News Waterfall - News Waterfall #3
Tuesday, 07 August 2012 18:19

Today, many scientists and politicians talk about climate change, possible catastrophic droughts and floods. Conferences and summits on these issues are convened. Against the background of emerging natural anomalies of regional and global scale, the river Dniester has been turned by Hydropower industry into a source of their benefit based on institutional voluntarism. Against this background and due to imbalance and lack of flow of the river, the processes of degradation of a unique ecosystem of the Dniester delta and series of ecological crises take place. In addition to these processes the illegal construction of cottage complexes in the coastal strip of 100 meters on the areas of natural reserve fund (NRF) in the delta is ongoing.

Hydropower industry authorities of the Dniester hydropower stations actually usurped the river, and in this they have their own logic. Moreover, authoritiess are hoping for a continuation of such story of the river. To achieve this new Operating Rules of Hydropower stations were developed. The most blatant and frankly anti-ecological, in our opinion, is a paragraph of the Rules, which states that: Environmental water releases — Sanitary water flushing (March–April) and Fishery-reproduction water releases (April–May), are carried out only under the condition of not causing loss to the filing of Dniester reservoir. Thus, the main purpose of the energy department and officials of the water and fisheries is filling the Hydropower station reservoir and create favourable conditions for the fish stock of the Dniestrovsky reservoir only. What happens to the living inhabitants of the unique Dniester Delta, with millions of people who live downstream, is not their concern any more.

In 1993, a reserve area “Dniester marches” with an area of 7620 hectares was created in the Dniester delta. In 1996, the wetlands of estuarine areas of the river: “Interfluves of the Dniester River and Turunchuk” and “North Shore of the Dniester estuary” with a total area of 27,620 hectares received the protected status of the Ramsar Convention. Finally, in 2008 the Dniester delta wetlands receive status of the National Nature Park with an area of 21,311 hectares. Lower Dniester National Nature Park was created by the Decree of the President of Ukraine.

Prior to 1986 — the beginning of the Dniester Hydropower Station operation, a very rare form of an ibis — Glossy Ibis was one of the most common species of birds in the Dniester estuary. The number of permanent Glossy Ibises nesting here reached 2500–3000. In the spring of 1987 in the low-water year, for the first time in history, the Glossy Ibis did not nest in the delta of the Dniester. In the 1988–2002 years the number of nesting Glossy Ibises in the delta ranged from 100–350 individuals. In the period 2003–2009 the number of breeding birds decreased to 40–150 individuals. In recent years (2010–2012), Glossy Ibis, as breeding species virtually disappeared from the delta of the Dniester. Only a few dozen individuals could be found. This rare bird — a relative of the sacred ibis, is a symbol of Lower Dniester National Park.

The cause of their extinction in the delta of the Dniester is man-made changes in the hydrological regime of the river, triggered by hydropower station. As a result of these changes, 85% of the formerly marshy delta territory (except for a narrow strip of flooded areas adjacent to the Dniester estuary) in the spring and summer is completely dry for a long period of 70–150 days, and is turning into a desert.

Man-made changes in the hydrological regime led to the cessation of the spawning stock of fish in the spring, or a very low efficiency of reproduction of fish and many other aquatic organisms.

As a result of violations of water exchange processes in the spring and summer, caused by the work of Hydropower Station, the entire mouth area of the Dniester became an ecological disaster zone, because animal life in water of poor quality is impossible.

In addition to the processes of mass blooms from June 1986, when the first environmental crisis associated with the filling of the reservoir in a period of low water, for the first time in the history of the Dniester River the mass blue-green algae growth began to occur. These algae are toxic and inhibit the viability of virtually all other aquatic organisms, turning the delta into a lifeless desert.

Due to lack of water in the spring and summer of 2012 there was virtually no spawning of fish. The meadows were not filled, many of which have been illegally built up with cottages and as a result its vegetation is no longer able to purify water and to give life to the inhabitants of the delta. And at the same time in the Dniester Reservoir about 3 billion m 3 of water has been accumulated, which is a common resource for all who live on the banks of the suffering river.

The argument of power engineers, conductors, and their hired experts that water discharge to the Lower Dniester can not be large due to poor inflow into the reservoir this year is unconvincing. Dniester is the cross-border river. The reservoir was created, not in order to manipulate water and stuff the pockets with money by selling energy abroad, but for proper management of water resources, taking into account fair and equitable sharing of water, taking into account the needs of the people and natural ecosystems. If the system of Dniester reservoirs earns millions of dollars in energy production, using a common water and without asking anybody why it can not provide the river delta during the critical period by the amount of water that would have provided a solution to environmental and health issues? Moreover, many localities, including the million-city of Odessa, are in dire need of safe drinking water.

One of the largest lakes in the delta — Putrino has become a hostage to a system of ecological crisis in 2012. The lake was once a unique recreational water body, a recreational summer camp for hundreds of kids from all Belyaev district and Odessa oblast was built on its banks. Large quantities of fish were caught there. The lake served as a maternity home for hundreds of millions of fish fry. Lots of ducks, geese, waders were always there, which were hunted during the hunting period for sport.

The lake experienced first stress when Kuchurgan reservoir was constructed in the early 60s, as well as from the construction of dams, water supplying and drainage canals. At first it started quickly accumulate sediments runoff of the muddy river, and gradually started to silt up. And with the creation of a cascade of reservoirs in the upper part of the Dniester and the redistribution of runoff “for the benefit” of hydropower the lake received less water in the spring, and even more so in summer. Washout of fertilizers from the fields, an abundance of decaying organic matter in the lake under water flow scarcity from time to time led to a single blooming in a small area of water surface.

But in mid-July 2012, for the first time, the water in the approaches to the lake and across all water area of the lake from the surface to the bottom has become troubled because of the mass growing of green and blue-green algae. This led to the almost total oxygen “grazing” and loss of the inhabitants of the lake. Hundreds of thousands dead and half-dead aquatic organisms: most of the water filter feeders — clams, a large number of frogs and fish fry of different species has accumulated on the surface of the lake. Most of them are dead. But for those, who are still alive, the chances of survival are almost none.

This incredible abundance of food attracted a huge number of fish-eating birds — gulls, pelicans, cormorants, herons, etc. Their total number amounts to several thousand individuals. It would seem — bird lovers rejoice! But it is not so. Such a flock of birds in the Dniester, and on only one lake, we see for the first time. It seems that they have come from all over the Lower Dniester National Park, from all over Moldova and Pridnestrovie. In addition, the lake has a lot of poaching nets, including those with a dead fish, frogs, and water beetles. People accuse pelicans that they eat fish! They refer to an unrealistic and even absurd figure — 15 kg of fish per day for one pelican, although it is at least 10 times more than their daily requirement. But it is not the fault of pelicans. This is the general problem of water and wildlife that has become hostage to manipulation of water resources.

Local residents complain of water shortages caused by hydroelectric power station, the lack of funds to clean the canals that feed the lake. Fishermen and hunters, too, shrug, not knowing how to approach the problem, although they ruthlessly exploited and exploiting biological resources.

Lake has many formal state defenders and users: Odessa oblast Department of Water Resources Management, Odessa oblast Department of Fishery, Odessa oblast Department of Forests, hunting and fishing organizations, environmental inspection, the Transboundary Dniester river Basin Council, district and regional state administration, and many other organizations. But, nevertheless, one of the unique pearls of the Dniester River is in agony. Day after day the situation is getting worse. Toxic waste water from the lake flows into the river Turunchuk, and then to the Odessa drinking water intake, and to the shores of Lower Dniester National Park. And if urgent measures are not taken — the lake may either be a source of pathogens that are dangerous to humans, or simply to dry completely, burying millions and millions of aquatic organisms, depriving of food many species of birds and turning the once rich in natural resources Delta into the desert.

It is obvious that thirty years' experience of the Dniester Hydropower stations has not taught people wisely and equally manage the river. The life of the biota in the Dniester River estuary is inconsistent with existed practice and Operating Rules of the powerful hydroelectric stations that usurped the river. And what expects millions of people and hundreds of species for which the Dniester the only source of water and habitat?

Ivan Rusev

Expert on wetlands, Member of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine,
Board member of the international organization “Ekotiras”


Photo: the Glossy Ibises breeding in the Dniester delta areas (no water) 5 May 2008.



Photos of actual situation on Putrino in the Dniester Delta made on 13 -14 July 2012 by Ivan Rusev.