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Water for Peace


The Volga River Basin


The main challenge in the Volga basin is dealing with the legacy of the Soviet military establishment. The Volga basin covers 10% of the total territory of the Russian Federation, contains 39 Republics, some of them autonomous, and has a population of almost 60 million. The biggest problems stem from major industrial complexes, big dams, big cities, controlling pollution and maintaining navigability; all of which can be traced back to the military complex of the former USSR. The challenge being faced now is how to change the system that was originally constructed to meet military and industrial needs of the Soviet Union into one that will support the movement towards a democratic state and the sustainable development of the basin. The problem in the meantime is where to find the resources to maintain, decentralise and diversify the existing system and all of the associated infrastructure, and how to identify the laws and authorities required to govern water management under the new political structure of the Federation. Today, the Russian Federation is in a period of transition; in Soviet times, the different Oblasts were centrally controlled, now they must make their own decisions, including those about water management, and pay for them. The Volga basin includes several large cities, each of which pollutes a reservoir belonging to another further downstream causing a great deal of provocation and some permanent conflict situations. The oblast boundaries were drawn-up arbitrarily and cut across the basin. Formerly, conflicts would have been addressed by the national minister in charge of wate;, with decentralisation there is no established management system to resolve problems between regions. The most urgent need is to establish a new system of communication between the different levels of governance – local, state and national – and begin to develop a modern management structure. The problem is finding the funds needed to maintain, de-centralise and diversify the old Soviet system. A clear legal structure linking the local, state and national levels would help guide and regulate decision-making. This project aims to provide a first step towards the urgently needed transition of the management and legislation of the whole basin, to make people aware of the conflict and environmental disaster potential of leaving matters as they are, and begin to identify clear strategies to resolve existing conflicts in a transparent and regulated way.

3 This proposal was prepared by Green Cross Russia, with the close collaboration of Professor Alexander Kosarikov, Vice-President of the Committee on Ecology of the State Duma, and Dr. Natalia Davidova, Director of the Non-Governmental Environmental Consulting Company. GC Russia, Prof. Kosarikov and Dr. Davidova will be the driving forces behind the Volga River basin component of the Water for Peace project.

water for peace,The Volga River Basin
The Volga River Basin


The Volga river basin covers 1358 thousand km2, spans 39 subjects of the Russian Federation, some of which are autonomous republics, and two regions of Kazakhstan. The population of the basin is approximately 57 million persons, including 40 % of the total population of Russia. The run-off of the Volga varies greatly from year to year; since 1881 the highest river run-off was registered in 1926 at 382 km3, and the lowest was 161 km3, in 1937. The average Volga run-off near Volgograd is 254 km3. 2600 rivers supply the Volga and its reservoirs directly. The estuary lies 28 m below the sea level and the difference in elevation from the source to the estuary is 256 m. The Volga is the main source of water entering the Caspian Sea, the largest internal-drainage basin in the world, and its biodiversity includes 90% of world sturgeon reserves. The Volga-Kama river system is the main transport artery of European Russia and is a key link in the structure of the important Trans- European transport corridors; the volume of traffic reaches 20 million tons annually.

Water collection from the Volga

Alongside the many rivers which form the basin water system, and which are the main source of drinking and technical water supplies for this enormous region, are a large number of hydroelectric power stations which provide 13 % of the basin’s electric power complex. Hydroelectric stations were constructed on the Volga and Kama with power generation of up to 2.5 million kilowatts (Ivankovo, Uglich, Rybinsk, Gorki, Cheboksary, Kama, Votkinsk, Nizhnekamsk, Kuibishev, Saratov, Volgograd). In addition to the hydropower stations, large thermal power stations are also situated on the Volga basin, including the 2.8 million kilowatts Ryazan and the 3.6 million kilowatts Kostroma, as well as a large portion of the former Soviet Union’s military complex. The military legacy is a huge burden on the basin, both in terms of pollution from military industries, storage facilities and former bases, and because of the cost of maintenance.

Large-scale dam building in the Volga basin has radically altered both the hydrological and thermal regimes of the Lower Volga and the delta of the river. The creation of a cascade of large reservoirs, especially on the Lower and Middle Volga, have led to huge losses in run-off due to additional evaporation from their surfaces. Coupled with unsustainable water consumption, especially in connection with the development of irrigation, the river run-off is now only 10 % of the natural levels. The dams and reservoirs have also reduced the volume and duration of floods, broken the natural seasonal dynamics of run-off, given rise to winter floods, eliminated stocks of sturgeon and other fish species, and negatively effected conditions for spawning. Overall catches of river fish have been reduced to less than a quarter of the1930 level.

Pollution on the banks of the Volga

The creation of the artificial lakes cascade on the Volga reduced the speed of the stream and increased bacterial pollution by more than 10,000 times. Additional pollution is caused by the approximately 450 oil and gas fields in the basin, producing approximately 80 million tons of oil and 40 billions cubic meters of gas annually. This has resulted in a steep rise in the cost of drinking water, and necessitated the use of new, more power-intensive and expensive methods of water treatment.

Poor environmental conditions in the region also impact on the low natural increase of the population compared to the average Russian rate. The basin includes only 8% of Russian territory, but 45% of its industry and 50% of its agriculture is located here. Environmental pollution in the Volga region exceeds the average Russian indexes of atmosphere, soil and water pollution by three to five times. 65 of the 100 Russian cities with the most polluted air are situated in the Volga basin. Approximately 42 million tons of toxic waste are produced in the Volga basin annually, but only 13 of them are managed or treated. As a result, the total quantity of toxic waste at dumps and banks has reached 900 million tons. No more than 3% of the total surface water resources can be described as “clean”. Organic compounds used in agriculture are the main cause of surface water pollution, as 50 - 70% of fertiliser and pesticide reserves are stored in the open air in the Volga region. The insecurity of storage, transport and use of such compounds leads to 30% mineral fertilisers loss. More than 400,000 tons of organic compounds are discharged in Volga every year. The total annual discharge of oil by-products is up to 18,000 tons, surface- active substances up to 6,000 tons, ammonia nitrogen up to 100,000 tons, phenols 90,000 tons, and zinc up to 1,000 tons.

Not surprisingly under the circumstances, not one single Volga basin city is currently provided with drinking water which conforms to the standard of the Russian Federation. None of the cities located within the territory of the Volga basin has a storm waters sewerage system to clean surface discharge to meet basic requirements. According to statistics, 21 km3 of sewage water is discharged into surface waters of the Volga basin annually, including 11 km3 of under-treated and non-treated sewage.

Despite other differences, the transboundary requirements for water treatment and water supply, as well as the level of financing of the corresponding services, are practically identical. About 50 % of the municipal budgets in the Volga basin are dedicated to housing expenses. One reason for this high percentage is that here is no integrated insurance system of hydraulic engineer facilities safety, leaving regional budgets to cover expenses of the flood control measures. The competition between areas in using water resources is already fierce, and if pollution and other water problems continue to deteriorate this competition could lead to conflicts. The most serious situation is in the hydropower industry as optimal difference of water levels from the hydropower point of view leads to fast waterlogging and bogging of ground, and the loss of residential areas and agricultural fields in the Volga plains. These conflicts of interest need to be recognised and addressed.


Main Problems to be Addressed

    1. Absence of the legislative and normative base for sustainable development of the Volga basin and prevention of water conflicts.

    2. Insufficient maintenance regime for reservoirs, including flood control.

    3. Ineffective economic mechanism for natural resources management in the basin.

    4. The lack of an effective system of environmental monitoring in the basin.

    5. Inadequate public involvement in conflict resolution in the water consumption sphere; public opinion has little impact on decision making.

    6. Absence of networking, cooperation, and other public bodies for the control of water consumption by water users or to protect the human rights of the local population in water conflict situations.

    7. The lack of information on the correlation between social and environmental factors, the environmental impact on the health, demography, social stability and well-being of the population needed to increase public awareness and interest.

    8. Poor quality of drinking water in cities and settlements of the Volga basin and absence of systems of water treatment and sewage systems management in small cities and settlements.

    9. Poor safety of the existing hydraulic engineering facilities and instability of the coastal zone.

    10. Environmentally unfriendly navigation (safety, channel-cleaning, sewage management on ships).


Characteristics of Conflicts

  • Conflicts between the subjects of the Federation situated on the Upper and Lower Volga as a result of absence of any water pollution compensation mechanism.
  • Conflicts between the subjects of the Federation in the sphere of reservoirs management, in particular, hydraulic power stations maintenance which leads to waterlogging, bogging, loss of residential and agricultural land, and rising of ground waters in upstream region.
  • Conflicts between the subjects of the Federation regarding fishing zones.
  • Potential conflict: the Russian Federation has opened its internal waterways for foreign ships. This will aggravate the existing conflicts.
  • Conflicts between municipalities, the power engineering industry and agriculture. Power engineering industry saves money by not following river protection measures. Organic pollution of water is increasing, making drinking water provision more expensive.
  • Conflicts between municipalities. Upstream cities discharge waste water without sufficient treatment, as they are not required to pay compensation.
  • Conflicts between different groups of the population and neighbouring municipalities because of poor quality of drinking water.


Project Objectives

  • Creation of the legal, institutional and social conditions necessary to resolve existing and to prevent future water-related conflicts in the Volga basin.
  • Organization of networking and cooperative public bodies for the control of water consumption by water users and to protect human rights of the local population in water conflict situation.


Expected Results

    1. An elaboration of draft Federal laws ‘On drinking water supply’; ‘On the protection of the Volga basin’; and ‘On environmental insurance’, in order to create the mechanisms required for the conflicts resolution at the Federal level.

    2. An elaboration of proposals to regulate the corresponding legislative acts of the subjects of the Federation situated in the basin and in the Volga Federal Region in order to resolve the interregional conflicts.

    3. A conception of the legal and institutional basis needed to resolve water conflicts at the interregional level.

    4. Development of proposals for water-users cooperation and networking in order to balance water consumption and resolve/prevent conflicts at municipal and inter-department level.

    5. Increased information of the population about the links between social and environmental factors: environmental impact on the health of the population, demography, social stability, and wellbeing, in order to increase public awareness and interest.

    6. Working out a model for the legal solution of the conflict linked with the Cheboksary hydro-electric power station (see box).

    7. Proposals to create a water resources monitoring network for the Volga basin.

    8. Environmental risk assessment of the activities of hydro-technical facilities, and proposals to create an environmental insurance system in the Volga basin.

    9. Proposals to create a Volga Basin Organisation necessary for effective water resources management.



  • Proposals for drafting the Federal laws ‘On drinking water supply’; ‘On the Volga basin protection’; ‘On environmental insurance’.
  • Proposals to regulate the corresponding legal acts of the subjects of the Federation situated in the Volga basin and the Volga Federal district.
  • Development of the legislative and institutional procedures of water conflict resolution at the interregional level.
  • Development of a procedure for the legal resolution of conflicts based on the case study of the Cheboksary hydroelectric power station.
  • Proposals to create the Volga basin water resources monitoring network.
  • Environmental risk assessment of the hydrotechnical facilities activity and proposals for the environmental insurance system.
  • The elaboration of proposals for the cooperation of water-users in order to balance water consumption, and resolve and prevent conflicts at municipal level.
  • Proposals to create the Volga Basin Council.
  • Proposals to create a Volga Basin Organisation for effective water resources management.
  • Organisation of a section entitled ‘The Water Use Conflicts’ at the international conferences ‘The Great Rivers - 2002 ‘ and ‘The Great Rivers - 2003‘.
  • Organisation of public hearings on the Cheboksary hydroelectric station conflict.
  • A round table with participation of the representatives of cities administrations and regions the Volga Federal district, Legislative Assemblies, Ministry of Natural Resources, NGOs.
  • The information of the population about water conflict solutions (newspaper articles, video film about conflict situations, a website of the project, brochures and the project report).

The dam creating the Cheboksary reservoir is the last of the Volga cascade, situated down-stream of Nizny Novgorod. It is important that the dam is in Chuvash republic – an autonomous subject of the Russian Federation. The construction of the dam began in the1970s but the hydro power station remains unfinished. After the filling of the reservoir, low lying sections of Nizny Novgorod and some agricultural lands were flooded and further rising of the reservoir level was stopped. From the point of view of energy efficiency the reservoir level must be raised, but a lot of land up-stream will be lost. Every spring, Nizny is threatened with floods. The Chuvash republic’s interest in "cheap" energy means a loss of territories, rise of ground waters in the Mary-Al Republic, and floods in the Nizny Novgorod area. No legal procedure exists for the resolution of such conflicts, so the relations between Nizny Novgorod Oblast and Chuvash Republic remain very tense.



Expected outputs

  • Development of the legal and institutional basis to resolve the water conflicts at the inter-regional and municipal levels.
  • Establishment of networking organisations to foster water-users cooperation and public involvement in water conflict resolution.
  • A final legal solution of the conflict at Cheboksary hydraulic power station.
  • That the project activity contributes to improving drinking water quality, reducing the river water pollution from bacteria and oil, stabilizing the consumption of water space industry and irrigation, and intensifying the protection of the river bank, and drainage and dredging works.

Project Partners

1. Kosarikov A.N. Doctor of economical sciences, professor, Vice-president of the Committee on Ecology, State Duma, RF
2. Davidova N.G.Ph.D, a director of the non-governmental agency ‘Consulting company on environmental projects’
3. Dement’yev V.S.Head of the Department of natural resources, the Volga federal district
4. Naidenko V.V. Doctor of technical sciences, professor, Rector, Architectural - building university, Scientific chief of the Federal programme ‘Revival of Volga’
5. Kruglov V.A. Head of the Committee of ecology and natural resources, the Nizhniy Novgorod oblast Legislative Assembly
6. Horses S.I. Director, Center of environmental safety, Administration of the Nizhniy Novgorod oblast
7. Antonova I.A.Vice-president, Committee on natural resources, the Chuvash Republic
8. Gaisin I.N.Vice-president, Committee on natural resources, Republic of Mary-Al
9. Strelnikova T.G.Head of the Environmental Department, Samara oblast Administration
10. Peters E.YU. Chief sanitarian doctor, the Nizhniy Novgorod oblast
11. Etin V.L.Doctor of technical sciences, professor, the Nizhniy Novgorod Academy of transport
12. Yiakubovskayia N.Yu. Ph.D, Leading scientific advisor, Department of natural resources management, Government of Moscow
13. Mikirticheva E.A.Ph.D, the editor, the social and economic department, the regional newspaper ‘Saratov – Volga’s capital’
14. Gulyukin M.N. Ph.D, Russian chemical–technologic university
15. Mashir Yu.I. Doctor of technical sciences, Russian chemical –technologic university
16. Kayumov A.A. Director, NGO ‘Dront’, Nizhni Novgorod
17. Bogolyubov S.A.Doctor of law, professor



    1. Realisation of a number of measures on progression of Federal laws ‘On drinking water supply’; ‘On Volga basin protection’; ‘On environmental insurance’ in the State Duma, with the involvement of all participants concerned (subjects of the Federation, administration of the Volga districts, water-users, NGOs).
    2. The development of the Russian legislation on environmentally friendly navigation.
    3. Creation of the Volga Basin Council.
    4. Dissemination of the case study of the legal solution of Cheboksary hydroelectric station conflict to other hydroelectric stations of the Volga basin.
    5. Development of a water resources monitoring network in the Volga basin.
    6. Inventory of hydraulic engineering facilities of the Volga basin (firstly in the Volga federal district).
    7. The feasibility report for the creation of a Volga Basin Corporation, with the mandate to develop a unified framework for water resources management in the Volga basin.
    8. Organisation of permanent section on ‘Water Use Conflicts’ at the annual international conference ‘The Great Rivers‘.
    9. Organisation of a seminar in the Union of Russian Cities on ‘Water Conflicts between Cities‘.



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