Fresh water of the Crimean Peninsula

Elena Kayukova
Assistant Professor
Department of Hydrogeology, Saint Petersburg State University

The water resources of Crimea are one of the leading factors for the stable development of the region. After the reunification of the Republic of Crimea with Russia in March 2014, the relations with Ukraine becoming more complicated. This affected all spheres of interaction, including water management.

Until 2014 Crimea provided itself with about 20% of its own fresh water resources. So, on average in 1990-2000 the total water resources of the Crimea were: water from the Dnieper River through the North Crimean Canal – 78.3%; natural river flow (ponds and reservoirs) – 11.8%; groundwater – 7.8%; marine waters – 2.1%. That is, Crimea received about 80% of fresh resources from the Dnieper water supplied through the North Crimean Canal.

The North Crimean Canal is a unique hydrotechnical complex (its main channel is 402.6 km long). The canal provided Crimea with water for more than 50 years. The cut off the water supply through the North Crimean Canal immediately affected the general balance of water resources, as a result of which the Water Management Complex of the Republic of Crimea faced the problem of finding additional sources of water. Since 2014 it has been necessary to focus on the internal capabilities of the peninsula (natural river and underground flows).

Climate is the principal factor in the formation of Crimean fresh waters. Atmospheric precipitation is the main source of accumulation and renewal of fresh water, evaporation plays the role of a regulator in the redistribution of water reserves.

Crimean rivers, despite their small size and the fact that most of them dry up in summer, still contribute much to the water balance. Fresh drinking water is distributed extremely unevenly across the territory of the Crimean peninsula.

The total own river runoff resources of the Crimea average are 1 km3/year, of which 85% are in the Mountain Crimea and 15%, in the Lowland Crimea and Kerch Peninsula. The contribution of river water, with natural-runoff reservoirs taken into account, is about 10%.

Natural runoff is not constant, depending on the hydrometeorological conditions of the area. The distribution of runoff, obeying the landscape-climatic zonality, corresponds to the distribution of precipitation. The altitudinal zonality of the Crimean Mountains ensures an increase in the average annual precipitation and a decrease in surface air temperatures with height. Characterized by natural fluctuations in water availability with a period of 4-7 years, when dry and watery periods alternate.

Thus, before 2014 the Crimean Peninsula had provided itself with its own fresh resources by about 20%, however, after the North Crimean Canal was blocked, the water collapse did not occur, because in 2015 precipitation was 20% above the climatic norm.

After 2015, a five-year period began, leading to serious water problems in 2020, when precipitation fell only 70% of the climatic norm. At the same time, during the previous 5 years, there was a trend towards an increase in the average annual values of surface air temperature and a decrease in the average annual precipitation (by 2°С and 11 mm per year, respectively).

In 2021, a favorable period began – atmospheric precipitation fell 130% of the climatic norm, which made it possible to fill the reservoirs of natural flow.

After 2014, the problem of water supply was solved by transferring water from reservoirs of natural flow to the eastern part of the peninsula, as well as by equipping new artesian water intakes – Prostornensky, Nezhinsky and Novogrigorevsky (Dzhankoysky and Nizhnegorsky regions of Crimea).

The artesian waters of the peninsula are an important strategic reserve in case of emergencies, and artesian wells should be operated with caution (since the reserves of these waters are not unlimited).

Excessive abstraction can lead to a decrease in the level of groundwater, the formation of depression funnels and the deterioration of water quality. Thus, in the North Sivash artesian basin, mineralization has increased by 1-4 g/dm3 from the moment of operation to the present.

It is impossible to solve once and for all the problem of Crimea’s water supply at the expense of its own resources. The population of the Crimean peninsula is steadily growing and, accordingly, the number of consumers of water resources is increasing. At the same time, there are global climate changes that negatively affect the formation of natural runoff.

Dry years, such as 2020, in some regions of Crimea can lead to a humanitarian catastrophe. Without the Dnieper water, Eastern Crimea turned into a desert. The North Crimean Canal was built by the people of the entire Soviet Union, and then they could not imagine how much the population of Crimea, the peoples of Russia and Ukraine would have to endure.

At the end of February 2022, as a result of the use of force by the Russian Federation the dam was destroyed. In March Dnieper waters again began to flow into Crimea through the North Crimean Canal.

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