Facts and Perspectives of Water Reservoirs in Central Asia: A Special Focus on Uzbekistan

[tweetmeme http://www.URL.com] Shavkat Rakhmatullaev (Tashkent Institute of Irrigation and Melioration) , Frédéric Huneau (Université de Bordeaux) and others listed in the citation have published an article on the facts and perspectives of water reservoirs in Central Asia, with a special focus on Uzbekistan.  This article is a Water Sustainability Month focus article on Facultas.

The political transformation of the Central Asian region has induced the implosion of the interconnected physical hydraulic infrastructure and its institutional management system. Land-locked Central Asian countries, with their climatic conditions and transboundary water resources, have been striving to meet their food security, to increase agricultural production, to sustain energy sectors, and to protect the environment. The existing water reservoirs are strategic infrastructures for irrigation and hydropower generation. Upstream countries (Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) favor the reservoirs’ operation for energy supply, while downstream countries (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan) push for irrigation use. This paper provides an overview of the current challenges and perspectives (technical, institutional, and legal regulations) and presents recommendations for the sustainable management of man-made water reservoirs in Uzbekistan.

The introduction to this worthwhile article reads:

After the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, transboundary water management and governance have become a hot topic in Central Asia over the last two decades. In fact, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report that the Central Asian region loses $1.7 billion per year, i.e., three percent of the region’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product), from the poor water management that lowers the agricultural yields. Moreover, some 22 million people depend, directly or indirectly, on irrigated agriculture in these countries. The sustainability of irrigated agriculture is one of the main platforms for food security, employment, livelihoods, and environmental protection in Central Asia.

The Central Asia countries (Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) have inherited an interconnected and sophisticated hydraulic infrastructure system from the Soviet era. As described by Libert et al. and Rakhmatullaev et al., from an engineering perspective, the hydraulic mission of the Soviet administration was set up to be based upon the construction of large dams and water reservoirs in the mountainous areas of upstream countries (Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan). This was due to the areas’ attractiveness of natural conditions and higher water accumulation per unit area in comparison to the conditions of the plains (lowland) within the downstream countries (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan). On the other hand, the lowlands were suitable for practicing irrigated agriculture and for growing water intensive agricultural crops (cotton, rice, and wheat).

The recent pivotal area of discussions is hydropower versus irrigation for the operation of reservoirs and dams in Central Asia, e.g., the Toktogul reservoir in Kyrgyzstan (Syr Darya River Basin) and the construction of the Rogun hydropower station in Tajikistan (Amu Darya River Basin).

In fact, in the region, various paramount technical, operational, and biophysical aspects that are not transboundary issues impact the sustainable operation and management of dams and their associated water reservoirs. Examples of these aspects include sedimentation, improper operation, overuse of hydraulic infrastructures against designed operational regimes, and the lack of national legal and institutional frameworks for dam safety. Moreover, there is no warning system for alerting downstream countries in the event of technical accidents or natural disasters. These acute issues have to be seriously addressed at the national and regional levels.

Some experts argue that within the region, global warming will have a severe impact on the formation of water resources in the mountain systems of the Tian Shan and Pamir-Alay because of the decrease in ice cover. In fact, these mountain systems are major contributors to the watersheds of the region. Research reports that since the beginning of the 20th century, a general warming trend in Central Asia, on the order of 1–2 °C, has been observed, which might have a potential impact on the regional temperature, evaporation, and precipitation regimes. According to the estimates made by the Uzbekistan Hydro Meteorological Committee, the pessimistic scenarios of water resource transformations describe a reduction of the river discharges by 15–20% and 20–30% for the Syr Darya River and the Amu Darya River, respectively. Water resources will be more stringent, and transboundary management of these hydraulic infrastructures has to be conducted in harmonious cooperation to meet the current concerns of all involved parties.

The World Commission on Dams (WCD) outlines that large hydraulic infrastructures, such as dams and their associated water reservoirs, have played an important role in the regional development of many parts of the world. In the Central Asian region, where natural precipitation is erratic or seasonal, with uneven spatial and temporal water resource distribution, and arid climatic conditions, man-made water reservoirs play a particularly paramount role. In fact, reservoirs store water during wet periods to make it available during dry periods, and in so doing, regulate floods, generate hydropower, and enable irrigation. Thus, it is important to discuss the technical, management aspects of dams and the dams’ associated water reservoirs.

The primary objective of this paper is to review the situation on dams and water reservoirs in terms of the technical, legal, and institutional aspects of the new geopolitical realities within the region. Special attention will be paid to the Uzbekistan experience and on improving the country’s large hydraulic infrastructure safety framework. Perspectives and recommendations are given for improving hydraulic infrastructure operation and management in Uzbekistan, and for examining, on a Central Asian level, the regional dialogue for cooperation.

Read the full article here in PDF format.

Citation: Rakhmatullaev, Shavkat; Huneau, Frédéric; Le Coustumer, Philippe; Motelica-Heino, Mikael; Bakiev, Masharif. 2010. “Facts and Perspectives of Water Reservoirs in Central Asia: A Special Focus on Uzbekistan.” Water 2, no. 2: 307-320.

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