Unprecedented Water Crisis in Annexed Crimea
9 May, 2017

Following the annexation by Russia in 2014, Crimea now deals with growing shortages of drinking water. The main water source - the Dnipro river - is on Ukrainian controlled territory and now out of reach for Russian-installed authorities. According to specialists, Crimea’s local water sources cover only 15% of demand. If there are no big droughts in the coming future, the drilling of new wells might help to ease the Crimean drinking water shortage. However, the northern regions of the peninsula have already felt the first signs of a water crisis.

The idea of delivering fresh water from the Dnipro to Crimea is more than 150 years old and was first expressed by the founder of Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Christian Steven. It is one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe and is located in Crimea, not far from Yalta. The solution was called to end regular droughts and famines that happened on the peninsula in dry years. However, the project was materialized only after Crimea was transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet authorities in the 1950s.

Prior to the annexation, 85% of Crimea’s water needed for irrigation and local factories was covered by the canal water. The canal was pumping over a billion cubic meters of water per year.

After the 2014 annexation, the conflict between the Kremlin-controlled leadership of the peninsula and the State Agency for Water Resources of Ukraine broke out immediately. At first, Russian-installed authorities accused Ukraine of blocking the water supply from Ukrainian territory. Kyiv denied this and blamed the absense of water in the canal on the incompetence of the new Crimean authorities.

In addition, Crimea now owes money for the already supplied Dnipro water. That’s why in May 2014, a temporary dam was built in the Kherson region, which borders Crimea, to establish a huge "counter" supply of water in case the parties come to an agreement on the price and terms of supply of fresh water to Crimea. In 2017, this dam became permanent (made of concrete).

New dam. Photo: Andrii Klymenko, Facebook

Indeed, in the spring and summer of 2014, hundreds of new wells were drilled in the steppe areas of the peninsula. To provide water to Feodosia and Sudak, which are situated in the southeastern part of peninsula, they even redirected a whole river. However, the situation in northern Crimea was only getting worse.

Traditional cultivation of rice and vegetables in these areas is abandoned now. In many areas authorities started drilling for water unprecendentedly deep: first water was drawn out from the depth of 70 - 75 meters, then from 270 meters, now they have reached the mark of 400 meters.

Vladimir Garnachuk, the chairman of the public organization Clean Coast of Crimea, suggests that the Northern Crimean population might face forced resettlement due to lack of water and its poor quality: "In fact, Crimea is now on the verge of ecological catastrophe: the complete destruction of agriculture and the salinization of land. The only outcome is that there will appear a need to resettle people and provide them with jobs in other regions of Russia. The sooner this is announced, the sooner people will understand the scale of the problems".

Video by Oleg Zubkov. Belogorsk, Crimea, 2016

"The water will be totally drawn from here in 1-2 weeks if to install a pump. Everything is dead. The soil is dry," says Oleg Zubkov, a director of the lions park 'Taigan' on the video. 

In late March 2017, the Rospotrebnadzor (Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Consumers Protection) released a report on the Krasnoperekopsk and Pervomaisk districts of the temporarily occupied Crimea. This document acknowledged serious problems at an official level for the first time. It’s dangerous not only to drink Northern Crimean water, but also to use it for watering, Mykhailo Romashchenko, director of the Institute of Water Problems and Melioration explains:

“These are reversible processes, but the more time passes, the soil and groundwater become more saline, consequently the more time it will take to restore them. Roughly speaking, Crimea is surrounded by salty water. Intensive extraction of fresh water leads to its replacement by salty water. The amount of precipitation is not enough to ensure a natural replenishment of groundwater resources".

People use salt water from Syvash and Karkinit Bay of the Black Sea instead of fresh water. Photo: Alexey Suvirov, UNIAN

The Crimean authorities ignore the problem and keep pumping. The "deputy" of the State Duma from the peninsula, Andrey Kozenko, has promised Crimean farmers that this spring they will be allowed to drill new wells for their own needs. However, the chairman of the State Committee for Water Management and Land Reclamation of Crimea, Igor Vayl, was indignant about this. He stated: "Do you know how many unregistered wells we have? I think more than a thousand. Unfortunately, farmers today do not pay attention to the chemical composition of water".

/Maksym Koshelev

/Translated by Olga Kuchmagra