The Ural-Caspian basin, which covers four Kazakh provinces, is at risk for water shortages due to decreased river flows and high levels of water losses, experts warned at a meeting in the city of Atyrau last week.
The meeting included water experts from Mangystau, Atyrau, Aktobe and West Kazakhstan provinces.
The volume of water used in the Ural-Caspian basin has decreased from 5 billion to 3 billion cubic meters per year over the past 20 years, they said, but it is still suffering from a water deficit.
One of the main reasons for the drop in consumption is the decrease in the volume of water flowing into the region via the trans-boundary Ural (Zhaiyk in Kazakh), Kigach, Bolshoi Uzen, and Malyi Uzen rivers.
The volume of water in the Ural River -- which originates in the Ural Mountains in Russia and flows 2,428 kilometers through Russia and Kazakhstan to empty into the Caspian Sea -- has decreased from 12 to 5 cubic kilometers over the past two decades.
In addition, the river, which is the source of drinking water for 70 cities and villages in Kazakhstan and Russia, is now being polluted by industries in both countries.
Lack of dredging has left many rivers in the basin silted up and shallower, meeting participants said.
Another reason for declining water levels is the high volume of losses at local water supply and irrigation facilities, which were built in the 1960s but have not been maintained in good repair.
To address the problem, the experts drew up a plan to explore local groundwater resources, which could provide another 2 billion cubic meters of water per year for the region.
They also plan to increase the capacity of the Kigach-Aktau water main from 94,000 to 135,000 cubic meters per day, which will allow water companies to supply dozens of inhabited localities. At the same time, the Atyrau thermal power station will decrease its withdrawals from the Ural River by 12 million cubic meters per year.
Drinking water has often been used for industrial needs in Atyrau province, but there is now barely enough for domestic needs, experts warned earlier this year. There are already problems with water supply in the provincial capital, Atyrau.