New approach to EECCA rivers
Mott MacDonald is helping states in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia to develop an integrated approach to river management.
(Article taken from our customer magazine, Momentum)
Many of the former soviet states have joined the European Union (EU) or are aspiring members. In 2000 the EU implemented legislation designed to promote a holistic approach to water resource management, the Water Framework Directive (WFD). It works by looking at entire river catchments and requires neighbouring countries to co-operate on assessing water quality, biodiversity and sustainability.
Under a two-year, €2.3 million programme funded by the EU, Mott MacDonald is working with six countries – Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – to integrate water resource and water quality management. This is an important step in aligning water management with the WFD.
Redrawing of the political map of eastern Europe and the Caucasus in the last two decades has presented some water management challenges, explains Mott MacDonald team leader Steve Warren. Before the USSR broke up the length of nearly every river was contained within its borders.
Meanwhile, under the soviet system resources were centrally controlled. “The main function of water management was to allocate water resources and ensure that enough water was available to meet the needs of people, industry, agriculture and power generation. It was also concerned with flood prevention and protection.”
Today, national boundaries have been re-established and water resources are managed by individual states. The quality and volume of water in rivers is of far greater local concern.
At present water quality and availability in former eastern bloc countries is relatively good, Steve notes – albeit for unfortunate reasons: “As political and economic disintegration took place, the system of tariffs and subsidies that had underpinned industry and agriculture across the USSR disappeared.” Industrial output dropped by 25-30%, dramatically reducing water demand as well as the volume of contaminated wastewater discharged. The agricultural sector contracted.
With farmers unable to afford fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, concentrations of agricultural chemicals flushed into rivers by rainwater run-off were significantly reduced.
However, economic growth could lead to increased pollution or abstraction in future. If water quality or availability is adversely affected, water has the potential to be a source of conflict, Steve warns. Meanwhile, rivers traversing the western states drain to the Black Sea, and river water quality has a potentially significant impact on the health of the sea itself.
The project seeks to promote cross-border collaboration. Challenges include getting different ministries with responsibility for water within the national governments to work together. “Typically ministries responsible for water quality and water resources were separate. Far greater emphasis was placed on the availability of water for industry and irrigation. Quality is a relatively new concern,” Steve comments.
“At the outset of the project we explained that, even if you have a lot of water, if it’s polluted it’s less useful as a resource.” People in different ministries were asked to consider the range of things water is used for and the interconnections between those uses – drinking, irrigation, fisheries, power and transportation. A unified approach is beginning to emerge, Steve reports.
Implementation of the WFD involves extensive sampling of water for biological indicators of health – dissolved oxygen, presence of micro-organisms and species of flora and fauna.
Targets for biological health are set. However, in the former soviet bloc the testing regime was different, based on chemical-physical analysis. “Biological monitoring is a new concept and it’s a specialised job. It’ll take a long time to train enough people to carry out monitoring on the scale required.
So instead we are working with what local testers know,” Steve says. Disadvantages of chemical-physical analysis are that dilutions vary with seasonal river flows and the chemical content of water is influenced by the make-up of surrounding land. Analysis is typically accurate to within only +/-20%. However, it is possible to correlate chemical-physical results with biological health.
Where available, historical records are being used to plot trends in water quality.
Once standards have been established, the next step is to set quality targets. “We’re asking whether water quality needs to be improved. If so, what targets are we aiming for, and how do we attain them?”
Steve is realistic about the scope for achieving improvements. Sewerage infrastructure requires huge investment. Funding is limited. However, the psychological shift away from merely preserving the status quo is important, he says.