The Volga won’t dry up this year: due to early and severe flooding

The Federal Agency for Water Resources talks about the state of Volga water reservoirs

The Volga won’t dry up this year: due to early and severe flooding
Photo: kamskoe.com

The Volga Day was celebrated in Russia on 20 May. The Volga River is the biggest river in Europe that is over 3,500 kilometres long on an area of almost 1,4 million square kilometres. Humans subdued the Volga to its needs — now it is a system of water reservoirs managed by scientists. And to make sure people don’t forget that such a natural wealth requires a careful attitude, the river day was established. But precisely a year ago the Volga was not in the “best shape” — it rapidly became low. The main regulator of the flow in the river basin — the Kuybyshev Water Reservoir — dried up too. Head of the Federal Agency for Water Resources Vadim Nikanorov explained to Realnoe Vremya why this happened and if there is a reason to worry about the river in 2020.

Hydropower plant problems since Soviet times

Now Tatarstan is fighting to prevent last year’s low Volga level. We will remind you that according to Realnoe Vremya’s sources, this problem arose also because of a conflict between Tatarstan ecologists and representatives of the Federal Agency for Water Resources. The Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Tatarstan noted that in May 2019 the level of the Kuybyshev Water Reservoir was above the minimum according to documents: 49,86 metres against 49. This means the rules weren’t violated.

Functionaries of the Federal Agency for Water Resources have recently sent a late reply to our newspaper’s request. They don’t see their guilt of what happened and explain the low level with unfavourable circumstances. In the letter of Vice Chairman of the Federal Agency for Water Resources Vadim Nikanorov explained the situation with water reservoirs of the river.

A system of 11 water reservoirs is used in the Volga and its tributary Kama. The total available capacity of water reservoirs is 80 cubic kilometres with the long-term average volume of run-off of the Volga River — 257 cubic kilometres. Moreover, some facilities of the system and hydropower plants weren’t completed during the Soviet period. Two hydropower facilities weren’t built — Cheboksary and Nizhnekamsk. The division gate in the delta of the Volga opened with restricted (temporary) use. A large-scale reconstruction of agriculture and fisheries in the Volga-Akhtuba water meadow didn’t finish adapting them to the operating conditions of the system, the agency said.

“In this respect, to supply water of the Volga lower reaches for agriculture and fisheries, there has been a special release to the Lower Volga for over 60 years already, mainly thanks to water resources accumulated in the Kuybyshev Water Reservoir, largely in the regulator of the system’s run-off. To release water to the Lower Volga, it is even permitted to send a part of water reserves that already accumulated in the Lower Volga water reservoirs,” Nikanorov explains.

Water discharge not according to plan

Employees of the Federal Agency for Water Resources agree with Tatarstan ecologists that the level of Lower Volga water reservoirs last spring was within the norm (the lowest bar in the Kuybyshev Water Reservoir is 49,86 mBf with the norm of 49 metres, in Volgograd, it was 13,47 mBf with the norm of 13 metres). But the hydraulic situation in the Volga-Kama basic didn’t have the best-case scenario, the agency noted. The snow melted gradually, while the soil wasn’t completely frozen and had low humidity, as a result, a lot of flooding run-off went into underground waters, this is why the water reservoirs of the system were poorly replenished.

The experts noted that last year’s flooding was one of the lowest in history of the Volgograd Water Reservoir (since 1959). According to the Russian Hydrometeorological Centre, the total inflow in the second of 2019 was 112 cubic kilometres, while the norm is 161 cubic kilometres. The situation was worse only in 1973, 1975, 1984, 1996.

The agency claims that the specialists took necessary measures in such conditions to rationally use water resources of water reservoirs of the Volga-Kama system. The special release was limited last summer and autumn to fill the Kuybyshev Water Reservoir and create reserves of water for the population, industrial facilities and agriculture in Volgograd, Astrakhan, Saratov, Samara, Ulyanovsk Oblasts and in Tatarstan. The situation stabilised by late last year, most water reservoirs were filled close to the norm.

Due to the sudden fall in the water level in the Kuybyshev Water Reservoir last year, specialists of the ministry heard a lot of criticism

Water level must be above 51 metres

At a briefing on 29 April, Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources Aleksandr Shadrikov said that due to the sudden fall in the water level in the Kuybyshev Water Reservoir last year, specialists of the ministry heard a lot of criticism. Despite the year with the low water level, according to the minister, it became possible to save the water balance of the Kuybyshev Water Reservoir and meet the water needs in the Middle and Lower Volga thanks to the Federal Agency for Water Resources.

The agency that’s responsible for environmental protection of Tatarstan explained that the situation with a low water level didn’t repeat in 2020, its specialists sent a letter to the Russian Ministry of Nature asking it to take measures to keep the water level of the Kuybyshev Water Reservoir (the biggest system including in Europe) wouldn’t fall below 51 metres during the spring flooding.

Aleksandr Shadrikov noted that by late April the level in the Kuybyshev Water Reservoir was more than 2,5 metres higher than last year’s bar and was 52,48 mBf. The water level won’t go below 52 metres, and it will rise to 53 metres by July in general, the minister promised.

In March, water was three times above the norm

“This year the hydraulic situation in the Volga basin is significantly different from last year’s. Because of a lot of water in winter, the water level of water reservoirs in the Volga-Kama system didn’t decrease significantly. From 5 to 7 March, the flooding began in the Upper Volga, very early. The total inflow to the system in March surpassed the norm more than three times,” Nikanorov says.

He said that according to a scheduled adopted for special releases in the Volga-Kama basin, they began to gradually increase releases to the Lower Volga from 5 April. During the period of the biggest releases, the level in the Kuybyshev Water Reservoir near the dam of the hydropower plant went down to 51,98 metres of the Baltic system. Then as the releases decreased, the water reservoirs gradually filled with water. Nowadays the Federal Agency for Water Resources releases water for fisheries in Volgograd and Astrakhan Oblasts: 14,000 cubic m/s via Zhigulyov and 16,000 cubic m/s via Volgograd hydraulic facilities.

According to the Federal Agency, the water level in the Kuybyshev Water Reservoir was 52,49 metres of the Baltic system as of 6 May, in Volgograd, it was 14,98. There is daily control over the compliance with the established regimes of operation of the water reservoirs.

The Federal Agency for Water Resources recently had a meeting of the inter-departmental task force to regulate the regime of operation of water reservoirs in the Volga-Kama system until 10 June 2020. Data of the Russian Hydrometeorological Centre was provided, which noted an inflow of water above the norm in the whole Volga-Kama system in May. The Federal Agency said that there were heavy rains in the basins of the Upper Volga and Kama in the first decade of May, while abnormally hot weather in northern and mountainous districts of Perm Krai caused sudden snow melting. This is why the water level increased in rivers of the Upper Kama, Vishera basins, rivers of mountainous and eastern districts. There was even unfavourable flooding in many basins, the water intensively went up, up to 0,8-1,3 metres a day at times. As a result, the inflow to the Kama Water Reservoir totalled 201% of the norm.

Specialists noted that the Volga now isn’t a river anymore but a system of water reservoirs. Photo: prigorod.info

There was also an inflow above the norm in the Nizhnekamsk and Kuybyshev Water Reservoirs. We didn’t have to wait for July. The water level of the Kuybyshev Water Reservoir has already passed the bar that was planned to be reached in summer and has been 53,26, water in Nizhnekamsk is at the level of 63,74 metres, Realnoe Vremya was told in the Tatarstan Ministry of Ecology when the article was published.

Low water level could have been prevented 20 years ago

If the level of the Nizhnekamsk Water Reservoir had been raised from 62 to 68 metres above the sea, as Tatarstan authorities though 20 years ago (at that moment they wanted to increase electrical energy generation in the Nizhnekamsk Hydro Power Plant from 420 MW a year to 1,160 MW), there wouldn’t have been a catastrophically low water level in the Volga last year. But the project estimated 32 billion rubles remained on paper. We should remind you that last summer and autumn the level in the Kuybyshev Water Reservoir reduced to 49,9 metres with the norm of 53. As a result, this caused a dramatic reduction in the quantity of fish and violation of sustainability of water ecosystems in many riverside regions, the economy and navigation suffered in the Middle and especially Lower Volga.

The situation in the Nizhnekamsk Water Reservoir was immediately named one of the main reasons of the low water level that has never been completely filled with water since the Soviet era. Specialists note that the Volga isn’t a river anymore but a system of water reservoirs. Europe’s biggest Volga-Kama system of HPP built in the 1930-1980s manages it. In late July 2019, the Ministry of Nature of Ulyanovsk, Samara Oblasts and Tatarstan offered the Federal Agency for Water Resources and Ministry of Nature of Russia to raise the level of the Nizhnekamsk Water Reservoir at least to 64 metres to create a reserve of additional water, moreover, Tatenergo company was ready to raise the bar from 63,3 to 64 metres at its expense. But the issue stalled in the centre again. Moreover, several Volga regions turned out unready to have about 3,000 square metres of land under water because of a higher water level in the water reservoir.

By Yekaterina Ablayeva
Tatarstan