On the water supply and water security situation in the Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol

The problem of ensuring stable supply of high-quality fresh water to the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol which is the main base of the Black Sea Fleet and their water security remains quite acute.


Since 2014, Ukraine has cut off the North Crimean Irrigation Canal (the NCC) which had always been the main source of water supply to the peninsula (up to 80-85%). As a result, Crimean's irrigation agriculture which had long been the main consumer of the NCC water, was curtailed.


For reference: The North-Crimean Canal supplied about 2-2.5 bln cubic meters of water annually to the peninsula, of which 1.5-2.0 bln was allocated to irrigation and industry, while 0.5 bln was allocated to domestic water consumption, depending on weather conditions, consumer demands and the operating mode of the entire irrigation system. Local sources (surface and underground ones) produce about 800 million cubic meters of water annually, but are allocated unevenly across the peninsula (provided that approximately 20% of water reserves in surface storage are non-extractable water tables).


Local reservoirs are traditionally filled irregularly and clearly linked to precipitation. However, in 2014-2018, weather conditions were unusually favorable in Crimea (in terms of precipitation regime, its regularity and volume), which allowed the precipitation reservoirs to be fully filled. Up to the first half of 2019, the peninsula managed to maintain a balance of water intake and consumption for domestic and industrial needs.


In 2020, the situation was greatly complicated by the lack of rainfall. Water tables of most reservoirs on the peninsula, even visually, were minimal due to drought and lack of rain (and snow in winter), and the local Hydrometeorological Center estimated the water situation in Crimea "stably tense" for more than a year.


Of the three reservoirs that supply the central regions of Crimea with water, the Partizanskoye and the Simferopol Reservoirs are filled to less than one-third of their design volume (however, taking into account the percentage of non-extractable water, it is actually three times less). The Intermountain Reservoir (with a design volume of 50 million cubic meters, previously supplied with water from the NCC through an inverted syphon) has been dry since 2015. Specialists, stating that the Crimean capital is provided with water, usually add: "And then everything will depend on precipitation." The problem is that it is objectively difficult to seriously hope for summer showers, as in the historical practice of meteorological observations on the peninsula, with a standard 50- year Crimean hydrological cycle, only two seasons were marked with summer rains of significant volume.


The South Coast of Crimea, the most prosperous one since the Soviet times (primarily because of the attention to it as a resort and sanitary entity on a national scale), has recently been experiencing a lack of drinking water due to the shallowing of the Zagorskoye and the Shchastlivenskoye Reservoirs (the Bakhchisaraysky District). An increase in tourist traffic in the summer (which is the most water-stressed period) also contributes to the problem. During the peak of the season, the peninsula is visited by several million people. In contrast to the Crimeans who are traditionally used to save water, tourists do not adhere to such self-restriction (in this case, water consumption is unlimited hotel service paid by the customer).


The water supply situation in the Eastern Crimea (the cities of Feodosia and Kerch) is also very difficult. The acuteness of the issue directly affects gardeners and vegetable growers in the Piedmont Area of the peninsula. Practice shows that centralized water supply to these 120-150 thousand consumers is limited in the first place when the water is distributed across the peninsula. The regional authorities assist these people in arranging local pools and ponds to collect groundwater.


The problem of water consumption in the North Crimean towns of Armyansk and Krasnoperekopsk remains acute, especially in summer. Salinization of the local artesian wells intensified due to the activity of chemical plants, therefore, industrial and other objects stimulate the creation of "closed cycles." In the steppe Crimea, a widespread reduction of artesian wells' debits and lower water level in wells (especially after the "transfer of rivers to the east"), as well as a sharp increase in water hardness are noted with concern.


In the future, low water situation on the peninsula and the water security of Crimea will aggravate the issue of further development of industrial production of the region, its resort and housing construction, especially considering the launch of the railway part of the Crimean Bridge. In particular, after two new powerful Balaklavskaya and Tavricheskaya thermal power stations had reached their full capacity, they not only produce energy for consumers but also consume 1 bln tons of water annually each.


In the summer of 2018, the Russian Government instructed Russian Ministry of Natural Resources, Russian Ministry of Defence, Rosatom State Corporation and Russian Academy of Science to eliminate water shortages on the peninsula and in other water-deficient regions of southern Russia within the framework of the Federal Target Programme for the Development of Crimea until 2022.


For reference: since December 2014, when the Federal Target Programme for the Development of Crimea until 2022 and State Program for the Development of the Industrial Complex of the Republic of Crimea for 2015-2017 (which were subsequently prolonged) were approved, new artesian wells in the North Crimea were drilled; the "turn of the rivers" of the Piedmont Crimea, which means annual transfer of more than 50 million cubic meters of water to the east, was implemented. Small-capacity desalination units are being selectively installed in the north and east of the Republic of Crimea, in areas of particular need; housing and public utilities networks are being reconstructed everywhere (with up to 80-100% deterioration and water losses of up to 40-50%). Sevastopol solves the problems in collaboration with economic entities of the neighboring Bakhchisaraysky District of the Republic of Crimea (mainly concerning the accumulation and conservation of water in the Chernorechensky reservoir).


In January 2020, during the meeting on social and economic development of the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, touching upon this issue, made a strident statement: "A lot has been done, but not everything. We still need to work on the problems of water supply, wastewater disposal, and environmental issues, which no one here seems to have ever dealt with."


During the summer months of 2020 water security situation continued to be quite tense.


In order to avoid a threatening water shortage, in the summer of 2020, the authorities of the city of Simferopol supplied water to the gardening associations according to schedule (they also conducted an extensive audit of all abandoned wells in Sevastopol). The peninsula's capital received water from the Ivanovsky water intake which is under construction as part of the Federal Target Programme for the Development of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol and the Vilinsky water intake (the Simferopol and Bakhchisaraysky Districts). Municipal administrations appealed to citizens to save as much water as possible due to its shortage.


In the Crimean capital, the problem of water supply is solved to some extent by taking complex engineering infrastructure measures. In particular, engineer troops of the Russian Ministry of Defence in the course of the operation with more than 300 military personnel and about 140 different units of equipment involved, installed more than 50 kilometers of a pipeline making one line which connected the Tayganskoye and Simferopol water reservoirs. The total length of the water pipeline is more than 60 km. It is assumed that up to 50 thousand cubic meters of water will be pumped through it daily.


The access of the peninsula residents to safe fresh water and sanitary services should be considered in the context of human rights. The water blockade of the peninsula by Kiev directly affects economic and humanitarian interests of ordinary Crimeans. In fact, it is an evident punishment of people for their ultimate expression of democracy, namely, free expression of will in a referendum conducted in full compliance with the UN Charter providing for the right to self-determination.

At the moment, it is impossible to solve the issue of resuming the water supply to Crimea through the NСС through negotiations first of all because of Kiev's anti-Russia policy, supported by the Western countries.