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 Thursday, June 6 2024 20:16

Knarik Hovhannisyan: Armenia`s water policy leaves much to be desired

Knarik Hovhannisyan: Armenia`s water policy leaves much to be desired

ArmInfo.World Water Day is traditionally celebrated on March 22. In Armenia, this is a special date - a real holiday for non-governmental organizations, which receive considerable grants from their donors for Water Day to organize numerous events: conferences, round tables, etc. Moreover, as the experience of attending these events shows, few people raise specific questions, look for answers, or make demands on the government. Those "who call the tune", apparently, do so for a "tick" in the "cost estimates" and nothing more. ArmInfo decided "to be out of the swim" and, on the eve of the summer heat, turned to a recognized water specialist, scientist Knarik Hovhannisyan, who has devoted herself to issues of water ecology and water resources of the country for many years, even decades, with a request to briefly share her vision of water problems.

- Ms Hovhannisyan, back in 2021, the government announced its  intention to build 15 reservoirs within 5 years due to changing  climate conditions. How realistic do you think such plans are, and is  there a need for such several reservoirs?

- I will start from the end of your question. Yes, there is a great  need for it. It will increase the use of the country's water  resources, especially for the development of agriculture. I will say  in general that the process of global warming is very vulnerable to  the river flow of our country, threatening its reduction in terms of  annual volume. Therefore, the issue of accumulation and retention of  flow on the territory of the republic is very relevant and cannot be  put off for long.

Therefore, it is very important for us now to solve the issue of the  possibility of regulating the river flow of mountain rivers for  further use for irrigation throughout the growing season through the  construction of a wide network of reservoirs.

However, in our country, previously rich in specialists in hydraulic  engineering, over the past decades there has been a large shortage of  relevant personnel. Therefore, I consider it unrealistic to build 15  reservoirs in such a short period. According to my information, for  most of them, even working projects are not ready, they simply do not  exist. Not to mention the fact that considerable financial resources  are needed for this.  Of course, in the context of global warming,  the construction of reservoirs allows improving local climatic  conditions of the area, including creating recreational zones. I  heard that the projects for six new irrigation reservoirs were  supposed to be ready. At least, this is what the government said. I  don't know whether tenders have been held for these reservoirs, and  whether there has been any progress. But I will say that the  government itself understands very well that there is a shortage of  personnel. So I think the stated deadlines are unrealistic, and the  desires, unfortunately, do not coincide with the possibilities.

- Yes, you are right, some projects were launched 10, even 15 years  ago, but they still have not been implemented, for example, the same  Kaps.

- There are interesting projects for reservoirs, both Kaps and  Selav-Mastara. However, we have neither the specialists, as I have  already said, nor the necessary production and construction  capacities, and any, even minor issues, are resolved for months, even  years. Many things have to be constantly revised when working with  donors, estimates change due to the strengthening of the national  currency, inflation: In a word, there is little clarity. It is good  that the construction of the first "long-term construction", the Vedi  reservoir, has now been completed, but, according to my information,  it has not yet been commissioned. But there are plans to fill it at  least 30% and still provide some part of the arable land with  irrigation water.

- How are things related to the fullness of existing reservoirs in  the country? During our last conversation a couple of years ago, you  said that the fullness of the most of the reservoirs in Armenia is  not at the proper level since their technical condition leaves much  to be desired. Has the situation changed over the past few years? And  in this regard, I wonder if a dialogue has been established between  the expert community and the relevant government agency?

- At present, compared to previous years, a rather favorable  situation is developing due to heavy rainfall.  Therefore, the  fullness of reservoirs is expected to be at a satisfactory level.  However, in the process of operating reservoirs, in my opinion,  little has changed, since the technical condition - water losses from  the dam body, from the bottom and sides - does not allow maintaining  water at the proper level. In such a situation, large leaks from  reservoirs are inevitable. The expert community has repeatedly raised  this issue.  Of course, this requires investments, some  rehabilitation works have to be done, which are done very slowly, as  in the case of building new reservoirs.

- The other day,  head of the government, Nikol Pashinyan, announced  that the irrigation system in our country is dead, because it cannot  be reproduced.

- The irrigation system of our country is really in a deplorable  state, since it has become very outdated over the past decades. This  situation leads to huge losses of water resources. According to  official data, due to the emergency state of the irrigation system,  leaks from it amount to more than 60 percent. The government has  decided to transfer 40% of the water intake of pond fish farms to  recycled water supply. This will save territorial water resources and  significantly reduce the use of artesian groundwater in the Ararat  Valley.  This is relevant because currently, the level of water  withdrawn exceeds the permitted volume, which has led to the loss of  the ability to reproduce the aquatic ecosystem of the region.

- At the last press conference, the head of the Center for  Hydrometeorology and Monitoring of Armenia, speaking about Sevan,  emphasized that in April-June 2024, the water level in the lake is  forecasted to rise by 33-38 cm, which will be the highest rate in the  last three years. How realistic are such forecasts and what is  happening with Sevan today, how is the Sevan ecosystem doing in  general?  What risks can you point out today?

-The forecasted increase in Lake Sevan is quite real due to heavy  rainfall. However, I doubt that this will significantly affect the  state of the lake's aquatic ecosystem. After all, the lake receives  28 tributaries, which bring wastewater from the entire catchment area  of the lake. This includes untreated municipal wastewater, return  water from irrigated agricultural land, carrying various chemicals  contained in fertilizers, wastewater from more than 400 recreational  facilities along the entire shoreline around the lake, and more. The  load on the lake's ecosystem has not decreased at all, so, in my  opinion, we cannot avoid the summer bloom of Sevan this year. Some  hope is inspired by the fact that crayfish have appeared in the lake,  which have completely disappeared along with some species of fish  such as koghak and crucian carp, which were excellent cleaners for  the lake water. But uncontrolled poaching continues and can greatly  harm the reproduction of crayfish. The treatment facilities built in  the three coastal cities only perform mechanical purification of  wastewater. This is not enough for full purification of water, since  it is necessary to build stations for biochemical purification of  wastewater.

- Are you familiar with the environmental situation at the largest  mining enterprise in Armenia - Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine  (ZCMC). The Combine has been considering about establishing a closed  water cycle for a long time. It is not yet clear when it will be  done. What is the situation as of today?

- In November 2023, the ZCMC management organized a two-day trip for  a group of experts to get acquainted with the current situation at  the Combine. The Combine management pays sufficient attention to the  social issues of employees, safety, and human healthcare. Several  social programs have been developed: healthcare, sports, financial,  etc. It was gratifying to see concern about the ecology of production  areas. There are special installations for humidifying the air,  settling the dust generated during ore mining. As for the problem of  water used in production, water is currently taken from the Voghji  River for the technological needs of the Combine. Wastewater is sent  to the Artsvanik tailings dump, where the Combine's wastewater  settles, after which it is supplied via a pipeline to the tributary  of the Voghji River - Norashenik, where about 1.5 cubic meters/sec is  discharged, according to the Combine's specialists. The Combine's  management intends to reduce the amount (water intake) of water taken  from the Voghji River by 40% during 2024 due to the reuse of return  water from the Artsvanik tailings dam, introducing a circulating  water supply system. There are intentions to further increase this  figure to 100%. Then, due to the introduction of a circulating water  supply system, water intake from the Voghji River will be practically  reduced to a minimum, amounting to the amount of subsidy due to  evaporation, leaks, etc. This will improve the environmental  situation of the Voghji River basin within the republic. Although  this is an expensive, but very important program aimed at reducing  the load of the aquatic ecosystem with heavy metals, which today  significantly change the characteristics of water resources for the  worse. I hope that the ZCMC management will be consistent in this  matter, and will not delay the implementation of such an important  project.

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