An aging sewage collector laid at the bottom of the trans-boundary Irtysh River in Kazakhstan has degraded to the point where it must be replaced to avoid an environmental catastrophe, Kazakh environmentalists have warned.
However, government officials claim the underwater pipeline will remain functional for another two years, although they plan to start preparations to replace it this year.
The Irtysh provides drinking water as well as water for irrigation and industry in three countries – Kazakhstan, Russia and China.
“In case of emergency, everything will end badly not only for us, but also for neighboring Russia,” Nikolay Isaev, a leader of the Semipalatinsk Association of Non-Profit Organizations, said earlier this month.
“The costs of rehabilitation of the underwater pipeline would be disproportionate [compared to] the price which [we] could be forced to pay.”
Experts said the threat of an underwater pipeline burst increases during spring flooding every year. Fast-moving water currents could dislodge the pipeline.
Local water supply and wastewater company Semey-Vodokanal assured members of the press that the pipeline is checked every year. Specialists who inspected it last summer found that it is in critical condition, but the utility insists there is no cause for concern.
“They [specialists] said it can survive another two years,” said the company’s technical director, Vladimir Grebelnoy.
According to local authorities, design and estimate documentation for rehabilitation of the old underwater pipeline will be prepared later this year.
“Funds have been allocated to us,” said Alexander Ershov, head of Semey’s Housing and Utility Services Department.
“We will conduct bidding in late May, and then work to prepare design and estimate documentation will be done. If everything is OK, and design and estimate documentation is ready this year, next year we will start work.”
Officials said rehabilitation of the pipeline will not resolve all of the problems in the area; a new sewage collector also needs to be built. This will cost another $3.4 million USD.
Flowing more than 4,200 kilometers from the Kara-Irtysh in China’s Xinjiang province through Lake Zaysan in Kazakhstan to the Ob River in Russia, the Irtysh has seen a decrease in its flow due to the 22-meter wide, 300-kilometer-long Irtysh-Karamai diversion canal China has built.
The canal collects 800 million cubic meters per year, about 6 to 8 percent of the Irtysh’s average annual water supply. Itmay siphon off up to 40 percent of the river’s flow in the future.