Till the well is full - flooding around Bukhtarma generates theories07 august 2014, 00:07
Rising water in Kazakhstan's Bukhtarma reservoir is flooding recreation centers and several summer cottages situated along the coastline, Tengrinews reports. Many are worried that they would join the ranks of the unlucky ones and their livelihoods will be destroyed. Residents are blaming the Black Irtysh (Kara-Irtysh) river that has its beginnings in Xinjiang, China, and believe an intergovernmental agreement could help regulate the amount of water in the river feeding the reservoir.
But where does the water really come from?
Finding the answer is not an easy task with many competing theories being frantically shouted at each other by residents, officials and hydroelectric power station reps. Each of these theories deserves attention, however.
The Bukhtarma Reservoir is located in East Kazakhstan Oblast. It is formed by the dam that belongs to the Bukhtarma Hydroelectric Power Plant on the Irtysh River. The filling of the reservoir began in 1960. The water from Bukhtarma is used to irrigate thousands of hectares of Kazakh land, improve conditions for shipping on the Irtysh river and serves as a source of various fish.
The water feeding the reservoir mostly comes from snow and glaciers through the Bukhtarma, Irtysh, Kurchum, Naryn and several smaller rivers.
The Irtysh River accounts for about 25% of all the water received by Bukhtarma reservoir. This number is certainly high enough to significantly alter the level of any water reservoir, so excessive water flow from the Black Irtysh river is the first thought that comes to anyone trying to explain the flooding of the reservoir's shoreline.
It may look like a viable explanation, but it is quite improbable. The thing is that Irtysh has been staying below the desired levels for years, since the Chinese consume a large part of its water. There have been many talks and worries that the river even drying up in the future. Kazakhstan (and Russia that also uses the river) are very worried about the declining water level in the river, whereas the chance of it folding anything is close of nonexistent.
Knowing that the Kazakh government has been struggling to strike a water-sharing agreement with China for years, some of the residents on the shores of the reservoir pointed out that the intergovernmental agreement could have solved the problem of water discharge into the Black Irtysh river, and, consequently, help regulate the level in the reservoir. However, they seem to be missing the point. The government is chasing the agreement because of the deficit of water in the Black Irtysh - not its excess.
Hence, the possibility of excessive water flow from the Black Irtysh river is not the most probable cause for the current rise of the water lever in Bukhtarma reservoir.
Melting glaciers are named as another possible cause of the level rise, and it sounds much more probable then the first one. The glaciers in question are located high on the nearby Belukha Mountain. The name that translates as "white" from Russian comes from the snow covering the whole mountain almost throughout the entire year. The Belaya Berel River that has its beginnings on the mountain, feeds the Bukhtarma River and the reservoir. Since the local mountain rivers feed on melting snow and glaciers, their flow maximises in summer, but stays down during the rest of the year.
The rise of the level in Bukhtarma reservoir occurred in the summer season, when temperatures are highest and, thus, the mountain rivers are at their fullest.
Sergey Feklistov, Akim (Mayor) of Oktiabrsky village, where the houses are flooded, shares the opinion that glazers are the most probable cause of the flooding. Moreover, he adds that the flooded houses were built inside the inundation zone.
Feklistov also mentions that there have been talks with the hydroelectric power station to regulate the water discharge, but they have not produced any significant results. Some are pointing out that the power plant may have discharged excessive amounts of water through it dam, casing the flooding, but there have been no reports of any accidents, repair works or anything else that could have forces the power plant to discharge more water then usually. Nevertheless, even the lack of an agreement between the power station and the village administration does not excuse building in restricted areas.
Local residents say that they haven't seen the water creeping so near for decades, explaining why the houses were built so close to the water.
Chief Specialist of the Irtysh basin inspection Olga Titenkova agrees that the houses that are now in danger of being flooded were built during the years when the water level in the reservoir was low. She said that according to the reservoir's design the vertical fluctuation range of the waters level is 7 meters, which is a very substantial change since the slopes of the reservoir are not steep. So building in the inundation zone was bound to end up in flooding sooner or later. And this appears to be the case now.
Many houses houses (and businesses for what matter) are clearly built in the restricted area, either in the water protection zone or in the very bed of the reservoir. Some of them were build without obtaining prior approvals from the authorities, but some even hold the proper documents, which is even more surprising. This is the case with one of the flooded houses, according to mayor Feklistov. Several years ago the authorities acknowledged that it was located improperly and granted the owner an apartment in a nearby town. However, the owner's son now lives in the apartment, while the owner herself still lives in the house and wants to keep it this way and keep it dry.
What is to be done with all these buildings and people? It is both hard to create a course of action and to implement the plan thereafter. Still, the latest developments alert that that something needs to be done after all.
Writing by Dinara Urazova, editing by Tatyana Kuzmina (Dinmukhammed Kalikulov contributed to the story)