A Plan to Move Rivers: Man over Nature?

Turning Northern Waters Southward. July 2, 1971

Original Source: Pravda, 2 July 1971, p. 6.

Editors’ Note. – The CPSU Central Committee and the U S. S. R. Council of Ministers have instructed the USSR Ministry of Land Reclamation and Water Resources, in conjunction with the interested ministries and departments, to work out measures for the organization of research, design and surveying work connected with the transfer of part of the flow of the northern rivers into the Volga basin and part of the flow of the Siberian rivers into the Syr Darya and Amu Darya basins. Today we are publishing an interview by Pravda Correspondent V. Molchanov with Igor Andreevich Gerardi, chief technical director of the complex of projects for transferring and distributing the flow of the northern and Siberian rivers.

Question -What makes it necessary to turn the rivers of Siberia and the North southward?

Answer. -To put it bluntly, nature did not act in our interest when it “distributed” the country’s water resources. As much as 8870 of these resources are in sparsely populated northern and eastern regions. But where the bulk of the population lives, where our industrial might is concentrated and where all our irrigated land is situated, the river flow amounts to only 12% of the country’s total water balance. Our science and technology have reached a level of development at which the daring dream of Russia’s advanced scientists -that of diverting part of the flow of the Siberian and northern rivers southward in the interests of the entire national economy-now has a realistic basis.

Calculations show that local water resources at the disposal of agriculture in areas of long-term irrigated fanning are sufficient for the next 15 years. These resources are enough to supply moisture to 22,000,000 to 24,000,000 hectares. What then? ‘Men it will be impossible to expand irrigation any further on the basis of the southern rivers. After all, other branches of the national economy also need water.

Q. -What is agriculture’s chief ” competitor” in the consumption of water?

A. -I think that in this case “partner” would be a better word than ” competitor.” One often hears the opinion that irrigation ” takes away” water from the rivers and thereby infringes upon the interests of other branches of the national economy, above all the fishing industry. However, in reality the situation is somewhat different.

The income from irrigated land makes it possible to recoup the capital investments that are channeled into an overall increase in the southern rivers’ water resources. This” increment” goes not only for irrigation but also, and primarily, for the development of the fishing industry.

Of the approximately 630 cu. km. of water that the southern rivers carry to their mouths in a year of average precipitation, 350cu. km. must “flow” into the Caspian Sea, the Sea of Azov, the Aral Sea and Lake Balkhash if these bodies of water are to maintain a water level and degree of salinity favorable to the development of the fish population. This amount of water would suffice to irrigate over 40, 000, 000 hectares of land under crops. Such an area could, of course, yield far greater economic advantages and much more in the way of food than the fishing industry. However, here it is necessary to ask the question: Do we have the moral right to harm the country’s fish wealth? This is especially important because our natural science as yet has studied by no means all the economic possibilities of the inland seas and lakes.

Our project solves a whole complex of problems encompassing a vast region of the country that is called the Central Water Resources Region. ‘Ibis region includes Western Siberia, the Altai, the eastern part of the Urals, the Central Asian republics and Kazakhstan.

Allow me to look into the future for a moment. What will the implementation of this complex of work produce? In the lower reaches of the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, 4,000,000 hectares of fertile land that were irrigated in ancient times will be restored. On this basis, a major region of intensive animal husbandry and rice farming will come into being. An additional 2,000,000 hectares of currently waste land in Southwestern Turkmenia will begin to bear. Water will bring life to the empty pasturelands of Kazakhstan and will flow to fields in the republic’s arid regions.

Major new canals, with cities and enterprises rising along their banks, will extend across the desert. After all, there are rich deposits of ore, petroleum and gas here. The industrial complexes of West Kazakhstan and the Urals will receive considerably more water than they do now.

Q. -Now tell us, please, how the flow of the Siberian rivers will be transferred.

A. -Design organizations and individual specialists have offered many suggestions. We have to select the best of them.

I’ll tell you about one of the variants we have worked out for transferring the flow of the Irtysh and the Upper Ob to the basins of the Aral and Caspian Seas. A map of this variant is printed on this page. We propose to use the region where the Tobol empties into the Irtysh as the water collector. A reservoir with a system of navigation locks is being designed for this location. Water from the ” Tobol Sea,” with the aid of a system of pumping stations and canals, would climb to a height of 75 or 80 meters to the Turgai Divide near the city of Zavodoukovsk. From there the water would flow by gravity through a canal to the Minbulak Reservoir, which will come into being in the Aral lowlands. From this artificial reservoir, the moisture will make its way into the channels of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, and also into a system of canals that will revivify the lands of ancient irrigation.

It is planned to carry out the entire complex of work on transferring the flow of the Siberian rivers in three or four stages. The first stage is designed to handle 25 cu. km. of Siberian water per year. In the second phase, the volume of flow transferred southward would double, either by increasing the intake from the Lower Irtysh or by supplementing the Middle Irtysh with water taken from the Upper Ob through a special canal. Moisture would enter the canal from a reservoir constructed on the Ob near Kamen-na-Obi or at Biisk. This canal would at the same time serve as the main line for irrigating the Kulunda Steppe and the Barabinsk Lowlands.

In the third and fourth stages, our main hopes are pinned on the Ob. Part of its flow will go southward in two directions: from the vicinity of Khanty-Mansiisk upstream along the Irtysh, and from Kamen-na-Obi or Biisk via the canal to the Irtysh.

Q. -The scale of this work is immense. Won’t its results affect the balance of nature?

A -The collectives of designers and researchers are taking into account all factors that could to one degree or another affect the microclimate of the region and the conditions of the development of the plant and animal worlds. Speaking of the southern regions, the diversion of part of the flow of the Siberian rivers to this area can bring only good. With respect to the northern regions, it should be noted that the lower reaches of the Ob and the Enisei suffer a great deal from high water. To reduce the water level on these rivers means to weaken the force of the summer overflow.

In the long run, we intend to obtain no more than 100/0 of the flow of the rivers in the Kara Sea basin. In the opinion of Arctic researchers, this will not affect the thermal balance of the Kara Sea or its coastal areas.

Q. -We have been discussing Asian matters. Now, what about the transfer of the flow of the northern rivers to the European part of our country? Please tell us how the problem of the northern rivers and the Volga is being solved. – A. -The basin of the Northern Caspian already has a shortage of about six cu. km. per year of water to maintain the level of the sea and to keep hydro-chemical conditions optimal for the fishing industry. The shortage of water in the Ural River, where valuable species of fish go to spawn, and in the basin of the Sea of Azov is getting worse. This is the case right now. But requirements for water are growing at a headlong pace. After 1985, the Caspian basin alone will have a shortage of about 50 cu. km. of water for agriculture and fish breeding. It will not be able to get by without help from the northern rivers.

Several variants of proposals for ways of supplementing the flow of the Volga basin are under study. One of these variants, for instance, proposes to transfer as much as 31 cu. km. of water a year to the upper reaches of the Kama – the main tributary of the Volga-from the Pechora River. However, the construction of the system of reservoirs called for in this variant would involve the flooding of large areas and the destruction of about 1,000,000 hectares of Pechora and Kama forests. Therefore, at the same time, other variants are being worked out that do not require the submersion of so much land. These variants are oriented toward the transfer of water to the Upper Volga from Lakes Kubinskoe, Lacha and Vozhe and the upper reaches of the Sukhona River. Then, a proposal is under consideration to transfer up to six cu. Ian. of water to the Upper Volga from Lake Onega via the Volga-Baltic Canal. The final stage of this plan will include other rivers -the Northern Dvina, Vychegda, Pinega, Mezen and Iug – and part of the Lake Ladoga basin.

These designs are being worked out with a view toward avoiding harm to nature in the North. The possibility is being created of pouring a powerful, limpid stream of pure water into the Upper Volga. In successive stages, the upper reaches of the Oka and the Don may be deepened and the supply of water in the Moscow River may be augmented.

The work of compiling the complex of designs is being done by the USSR Ministry of Land Reclamation and Water Resources, through its head association of institutes -die All-Union Water Resources Design Association. The research work is also drawing upon the resources of other ministries and departments and the USSR Academy of Sciences.

Source: Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXIII, No. 26/12 (1971).

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