The North-Crimean Canal that supplied Ukraine's Crimea with most of freshwater it needed from 1975 up until the early months of the Russian occupation in 2014.
Dnipro River water provides 85 percent of Crimea’s consumption needs. When rivers and springs dry and go shallow from the heat, storage reservoirs of natural water runoff are at best half full. However, off-channel storage reservoirs maintain their levels. Thanks to the Canal, Crimea will never be short of water as the canal helps to supply the storage reservoirs.
This article was published in Krymskie izvestiya (Crimean News) newspaper issued by the Parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea a year and a half ago.
The peculiar monument pictured stands in the park of Krasnoperekopsk town. There are three ten meter concrete pylons facing upward. As one can see in the picture, the dates are carved on the facets: 1920, 1944, 1963. The monument is called Three Assaults of Perekop. Perekop is the northern gate of Crimea. In 1920, it was assaulted by the Red Army that was forcing the White Army out. In 1944, the second assault marked the beginning of the liberation of the peninsula from the Nazis.
In 1960, there were explosions thundering at Isthmus of Perekop again – mine-pickers were destroying unexploded mines, shells and aerial bombs, preparing the site for the North Crimean Canal (NCC).
The last powerful explosion occurred on October 17, 1963, when construction hit the earth cofferdam in the bed of the North Crimean Canal. Those who witnessed this historic event were delighted to see Dnipro water flowing.
Construction of the Canal progressed rapidly. In September 1965, it reached Dzhankoi where water flow from gravity ends.
In July 1967, the rice channels in Razdolnenskiy (47 km long) and Azovskiy (43 km long) districts emerged. In May 1968, the water was supplied as far as Nizhnegorsky district, and in September the same year water reached Krasnogvardeysky district. In April 1972, the water moved onward, to the Kerch Peninsula.
Along the way, off-channel storage reservoirs were built to provide water to the settlements in Leninsky district, Sudak, Feodosia and Kerch. Here, unlike any other place in Crimea, there is no water, not only on the surface, but also underground. The Lenin settlement used to be called Seven Wells. During the war it was also known as Seven Deaths since the issue of water was always an important consideration when upcoming attacks and intelligence missions were planned.
The first phase of NCC construction was completed on 29 December 1975 when station storage reservoir was put on stream.
The length of the main canal is 402.6 km. Water discharge in the canal head is 294 cubic meters per second (in contrast, water flow in Salgir [the biggest Crimean river flowing from the mountains through Simferopol into Syvash ] is 1.25 m3/s).
Average channel width is 10-15 meters; maximum depth is 6 meters. 1.8 billion cubic meters of water is annually delivered to Crimea by this manmade river.
Once arid heath near Syvash that used to be covered only with prickly Halocnemum strobilaceum and saltwort is gradually changing. Area irrigated by the canal three times larger than the area irrigated from the local sources.
The canal helped rice cultivation to develop in Crimea as well as a new industry of fish farming. The orchards and vineyards were laid out in places where they have never existed.
The harvest collected from an irrigated hectare equaled to the harvest collected from four or five rainfed hectares [in rainfed agriculture irrigation is supplied by rainwater – Istorychna Pravda]. New comfortable urban-type settlements emerged, and the share of rural population increased.
In April 1977, a second stage of NCC construction began. Its main object was a 46 km cutoff channel that considerably reduced the supply route to the center of the Crimea. It was expected that Simferopol, Sevastopol and the South Coast resorts would be supplied with water.
This was how the largest off-channel storage reservoir in Crimea, Mizhgirne, appeared on the north-west of Skvortsovo village. However, the construction of storage reservoirs “Zapovednoe 1″ and ” Zapovednoe 2″, south of Simferopol, to provide sustainable water supply to the South Coast never began.
In 1980s state funding decreased significantly. Therefore the third stage of NCC construction remained uncompleted, and the fourth stage was cancelled.. Nevertheless, the Canal still remains a unique, complex, and huge hydraulic engineering construction project.
Water from Kakhov storage reservoir flows by gravity through the Perekopsky isthmus and further on to Dzankoi for fifteen days, and after that four pumping stations raise the water to the level above 100 m.
Large diameter steel pipes were installed at the last stretch of the main waterway (from the village Zelenyi Yar to Kerch).
Rice channels of Azovsky and Razdolnensky districts, as well as Krasnogvardeyskaya branch merge into to the Black Sea branch, and fork from the main canal. Through a cutoff channel, Dnipro water flows to Saki canal from where it is channeled to Mizhgirne storage reservoir.
In the best years Crimea had received around 3 billion cubic meters of water (an average volume of all local sources is about 1 billion cubic meters).
It seemed that many problems of water shortage in Crimea would be solved. However, unfortunately, like in any large project inevitable errors in the engineering, construction and exploitation caused problems. Sadly, North Crimean Canal was not an exception.
The first problem was caused by the increase of groundwater level in the irrigated areas; therefore, settlements located in the vicinity of the main canal and its branches became threaten with flooding.
An ironic phrase was coined at the time: “irrigation against the backdrop of drainage.” In order to improve the situation in the irrigated areas, an Interdistrict department for collecting and drainage systems was created in 1981.
Another problem is salinization of lands and the practice of discharging the water contaminated by fertilizers and pesticides into the natural reservoirs.
At the moment the volume of Dnipro water supplied to Crimea has been reduced by two thirds. It fills only 8 reservoirs out of 23. All reservoirs are used for potable water supply. Their level does not depend on the vagaries of nature. The main point is to have the means to pay for the electricity necessary for the work of pumping stations.
When the summer heat and lack of rain result in drying rivers and streams, storage reservoirs of natural water runoff are at best half-filled, however, off-channel storage reservoirs, from NCC, are almost always full.
Again, thanks to the Canal Crimea will never be short of water.
Author: Zinaida Tymchenko, November 2012
Source: Crimean News(“Крымские известия”)
Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina, edited my Michael Donovan