Following a decision by the Russian government, the Federal Targeted Programme (FTP) for development of the Crimean peninsula and the city of Sevastopol will be extended until 2025. For this purpose, its financing was increased by 112.5 bln roubles ($1.48 bln.)
The regular supply of drinking water to Crimea is one of the key "performance targets and indicators" under the FTP.
Difficulties with the drinking water supply to Crimea emerged in 2014, immediately after the referendum on Crimea’s reunification with Russia was completed. Ukraine blocked the North Crimean canal, the main source of water supply (up to 85%) to the territory of the peninsula. In 2017, the canal was blocked by a permanent dam replacing the initial temporary valves. Its construction cost about €1.2 mln. The Ukrainian authorities claimed the reason for this was the need to provide fresh water to farmlands in the south of the country. After the blackout of 2015, when Crimea was left without electricity for almost six months, it was the second hardest blow to the economy and the tour industry. Unlike electricity that was transferred from the mainland via a power bridge, streamlining water supplies to the Crimean peninsula proved to be much more difficult.
As a result of scanty rainfall in 2019 and 2020, water supply in Crimea was done on schedule. For example, since August 2020, Simferopol and 39 nearby populated localities began to receive water regularly. On December 14, a similar system came into effect in Yalta and surrounding villages. In Belogorsk and Alushta, pressure in the pipes dropped at night. In Yevpatoria, hot water was cut off in toto. The shortage of water resources forced the Sevastopol authorities to declare a high alert mode. Hoteliers were warned on the eve of the New Year holidays to think about where they would get enough water for the season of public holidays.
"In Soviet times, water was also supplied in accordance with a schedule,” says Irina, the owner of a guesthouse in Alushta. “Yes, it's hard to explain this to tourists now. They don't want to adjust their vacation to the schedule of water supplies. To be honest, I don't believe that the situation will improve in the coming years until (seawater) desalination plants are built."
In October 2020, the Russian government decided to finance water supplies to Crimea and Sevastopol. The federal budget allocated 50 bln rubles ($657.5 mln) for exploring new water sources, construction of water supply and sewage facilities, as well as hydrotechnical facilities. The plan is to carry out a complete overhaul of the infrastructure. Moreover, several desalination plants are expected to be built in Crimea. The authorities have made public the plans to install the plants near Feodosia, Sudak, Kerch and Yalta.
In December 2020, during the annual news conference, Vladimir Putin answered questions regarding Crimea's water supply.
"The water areas of the Sea of Azov adjacent to Crimea, as well as (the bedrock) under the Sea of Azov, might contain large reserves of fresh water," the Russian President said. He assured that geological surveys were already underway. "I hope Sevastopol will not evidence any restrictions," Putin said. As is known, there is the base of the Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.
During an emergency meeting on the water supply of the Republic of Crimea, Vladimir Bazhenov, the CEO of the Crimean State Unitary Enterprise Voda Kryma, announced the sad news. He said that the Simferopol water reservoir had almost completely exhausted its water reserves. According to Bazhenov, daily water withdrawal has decreased from 70,000 cu m to 23,000 cu m per day.
The authorities are going to use the recently launched Dzerzhinsky water pipeline from the east of the Crimea to provide the city of Simferopol with water. However, since the facility has not been in operation for many years, it was decided to close it for repairs. According to Yanina Pavlenko, the head of Yalta city administration, the resort area of the city had stopped taking in water from the Schaschasvenskoye and Zagorskoye reservoirs, as 3.5 mln cu m and 2.53 mln cu m of water were left there respectively. Yalta switched to alternative water sources such as a new borehole and supplies from the Mogabinskie Lakes that are filled from the Uchan-Su River waterfall.
The drilling of boreholes is another solution to the problems with water. Sergey Aksyonov, the head of the Republic of Crimea, said that already by April 2021, Simferopol would fully change over to water supplied from wells. To supply water to the eastern cities of the peninsula such as Sudak, Feodosia, Kerch and others the Nezhynsky, Prostornensky and Novogrigoryevsky water intakes that were recently built will be used. To implement such a large-scale project, 36 artesian wells had to be drilled with a minimum depth of 110 m and a maximum depth of 180 m. The contract cost 1.2 bln rubles ($15.78 mln.) About 200,000 m³ of water will be delivered through the pipeline every day. This volume should fully cover the needs of the residents in the eastern part of the peninsula. The water will be discharged into the North Crimean Canal. Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin announced last October that Rosgeologiya, a Russian state-owned geological company, is going to drill another 30 new wells in the Crimea by the end of 2021.
Non-standard ways that were taken from the experience of major cities on the mainland were also used to solve the water supply issue. In September, reports said the Crimean State Committee for Water Management had signed a contract with the Central Aerological Observatory, belonging to the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environment Monitoring (Roshydromet.) The contract totaled 25.5 mln rubles ($335,325.) Artificially induced rainfall on the peninsula was the subject of the contract.
The abnormal rains that have hit the Crimea in recent weeks have significantly improved the situation with water supply. Natalya Okhremenko, a hydrologist at the Crimean Weather Monitoring Center, said that the amount of water in the peninsula's reservoirs had increased for the first time in six months.
"At the beginning of February, the total amount of water in the reservoirs of natural discharge was 36 mln cu m. This is 4.7 mln cu m more than at the beginning of January. This is the first time in the last six months that such a situation has occurred. Before that, the amount of water was only decreasing", Okhremenko said.
This news enabled Vladimir Konstantinov, the speaker of the Crimean parliament, to tell the Rossiya 24 TV channel that the region's authorities took the situation with water supply under full control. "The issue related to water supply in Crimea has been fixed. It is fully under control, both the long-term and short-term programme. We have not imposed any new water limits," Konstantinov said. He added that sweeping efforts to implement the federal plan aimed at ensuring a stable and uninterrupted water supply were in full swing in the republic.
For example, in Simferopol, the task has been solved by using underground water sources. In addition, desalination plants are being built in different parts of the peninsula. They will help solve water supply problems in the long term. The plan is to use the plants during dry periods as reserve facilities. At the same time, Konstantinov underlined that Crimea no longer needs water supplies from Ukraine. "At the end of the Ukrainian control over the peninsula, the canal became completely useless. The pipes that filled it had been stolen. In fact, we got a significant environmental problem as thickets and swamps appeared along the trunk of the canal, and so its closure did not cause any major problems for Crimea. We adapted to the situation and carried out large-scale works so that there would be no need in Ukrainian water. I believe that this water is absolutely unnecessary and harmful for us," Konstantinov said.
However, not all Crimean residents support the authorities' plans. For example, Yalta activists have started collecting signatures against desalination. In all social networks, they appeal to residents, asking them not to be indifferent. Signature sheets for stopping the construction of a water desalination plant are being distributed around the city. Tatyana Somova, a resident of the Koreiz township and a member of a steering group, said: "The plan is to desalinate water in Yalta by reverse osmosis. The whole world uses water from this technology as technical water. The authorities replied to our enquiry that this water could be used for drinking purposes in Yalta. It should be said that it can cause cancer. This is why we are collecting signatures against the construction of desalination plants.
Although the snowfalls have temporarily alleviated the problem of water supplies to the Crimean residents, the measures that the authorities will take before May are much more important as traditionally the number of tourists spikes at this time in the Crimea.