Volga catastrophe: the river to recover in five years only

Tatarstan deputies promised to control the water level in the Kuybyshev Reservoir

Participants of a session of the Tatarstan State Council Committee for Ecology offered to create their own constant interdepartmental group on 28 May. The goal of the structure will be to defend the republic’s interests in Moscow when establishing volumes of spring water releases from the Kuybyshev Reservoir. As 20% less water goes to the Lower Volga River now than planned, the water level in Kazan has gone up and crossed the bar of 52 metres. However, specialists say the catastrophe will repeat without systematic measures. Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent observed the discussion of the problem.

“We can’t deceive”

“We all witnessed the water from the Volga to go,” Chairman of the Committee for Ecology, Environment, Agro-Industrial and Food Policy Takhir Khadeyev transparently insinuated that there weren’t taken timely measures to shallowing. To ensure the participants of the session better realised the scale of the catastrophe, he gave the floor to the guests — ecologist Nafisa Mingazova and representative of the Tatarstan Society for Fishermen Oleg Mazanov.

“The 2,5-3-metre fall in the water level in the Kuybyshev Reservoir makes shallows dry, while it is 60% shallows,” Mingazova said. “At the same time, the reservoir gets to a state of anthropogenic destabilisation — self-treatment processes destroy in it. Difficulties with spawning are one of the consequences. The identical situation was in 1995 or 1996 when the water fell by 3-4 metres. Fish went with caviar, the caviar was reborn, fish began to be ill…”

Drought is when toxic blue and green weeds appear in water bodies. We can’t say there is no problem, we can’t deceive or be deceived!

Mingazova drew the people’s attention to the fact that a number of functionaries in Tatarstan had been preferring to pretend that nothing catastrophic was happening for long, they even didn’t make any official statements in the media in this respect. She noted that Nizhny Novgorod began to raise the alarm when the water fell by just 0,5 metres:

“The water level fall and drying shallows destroy hydrobiocoenosis, which recovers only in 3-5 years even in favourable conditions, while we have alternation, for instance, there was a drought in 2016 and 2018. Drought is when toxic blue and green weeds appear in water bodies. We can’t say there is no problem, we can’t deceive or be deceived!”

“Stop the mess”

Representative of the Tatarstan Society for Fishermen Oleg Mazanov confirmed that indeed there had been a catastrophe in the Volga River. According to him, he hasn’t seen such shallowing and such consequences during 35 years, the time he has been keen on fishing for:

“The mess with water discharges began in the mid-90s,” he specified. “It’s certainly a human factor, and we must do something with it. We must deliver the information about the consequences of water discharge to top state officials, to Moscow.”

Moreover, Mazanov offered another two measures, which seem to be effective in his opinion, to prevent the mess: to secure the river from water discharges during spawning at a legislative level, that’s to say, from 15 April to 15 June and introduce the notion of minimal water level also at a legislative level, moreover to do it strictly so that it will be impossible to lower the water on the pretext of important national economic goals as it’s done now.

“And the last petitions,” Mazanov concluded, “when decisions are made, communicate them to the population in the media!”

Volga was dehydrated when achieving “ultimate goals”

Takhir Khadeyev read a note from Tatflot shipping company in which the situation is evaluated as catastrophic and it is noted that the republic’s fishery industry was done an “irreparable damage” and the shipping company was suffering losses: only three of 20 scheduled tourist trips to Tetyushi have been made.

Then the vice director took the floor — head of the Department of Water Resources in the Republic of Tatarstan Artyom Filippov. He cited basic rules of use of the Kuybyshev Reservoir, “according to which decisions, releases, discharges are made”, and safety requirements during flooding and compulsory water release to downstream Volga for agricultural purposes, which are “primary”.

“What is your role”? Takhir Khadeyev interrupted him talking about the role in preventing the Volga River from shallowing.

“Our representatives don’t make decisions…”

“What are you offering?”

“To correct the minimal bar, which is 49 metres. Our offer is a 51-metre bar…”

“There were mistakes further”

Head of the Department of Hydrology of the Tatarstan Russian Meteorological Centre Aleksey Sokolov said that this institution’s forecasts of water inflow in April-May, which were the foundation to make decisions on regulating the Volga-Kama cascade, were fully confirmed. Sokolov noted that the inflow to the reservoir in 2019 was 20-30% lower than the norm.

And he added:

“If we had adopted the cascade use rules as of 2012, it would have been worse.”

“If the forecasts were confirmed, weren’t you heard?” some of the deputies specified. “If all information was available, who failed to make a decision?”

“There were mistakes further,” Sokolov disagreed. “It is the Volgograd Hydro Hub and further.”


Head of the Department of Hydrogeology and Water Management of the Tatarstan Ministry of Ecology Tatiana Vasilyeva pointed out that the forecast in the Volga-Kama cascade was made three times to manage water resources, and it wasn’t wrong:

“In fact, based on water reserve in snow, the inflow forecast on 29 March was 86-103%, it decreased to 79-91% on 12 April, and the forecast on 29 April was already 70-82%. The Meteorological Centre’s forecast was accurate, but this year the inflow was 25-30% lower than the norm. When you ask: “Who is guilty”?, I must say there was no water inflow, who can be guilty… On the other hand, we always talk about the Kuybyshev Reservoir from our perspective as if it is one closed water body.”

Vasilyeva explained that the reservoir was created in 1959 also to manage water inflow, to mitigate flooding consequences, which were “considered as a natural disaster”. But at the same time, the Lower Volga River is to receive 25,000 cubic metres of water per second for five days “to provide a sufficient water level in shallows” and “so that people will have water in summer”. This explains big expenses this year, she summed up, while the inflow in the High Volga River turned out low:

“It was a stalemate.”

Nevertheless, deputies decided to look for a solution anyway. In particular, it was decided to create an interdepartmental group on the Ministry of Ecology’s initiative to defend the republic’s interests in Moscow when establishing volumes of spring water releases from the Kuybyshev Reservoir and exclude the catastrophes similar to the current one.

By Inna Serova, author’s photos