Ecological apocalypse, or billions sinking in Baikal, Volga and Moscow River
In July, an environmental forum Soobschestvo (‘Community’) was held in Tula, organized by the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation. The topic of the forum was “Nature and society: How to achieve harmony.” The event passed almost unnoticed in the mass media, while in fact, during the forum, it was found out how huge the gap between environmentalists and public officials is: The first ones are more advanced in environmental matters than those who are obliged to resolve socio-environmental conflicts with budgetary money and not only.
“The almost total absence of any kind of legislators was touching: neither the federal deputies nor the regional deputies reached the forum. The complete prevalence of representatives of the executive authorities, who complained that our law is no good, the enforcement is not good, the supervisor is engaged in something incomprehensible, i.e, “the pants of the lieutenant Rzhevsky are permanently crapped by some kind of anonymous villain.” But the new Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology, Dmitry Kobylkin formed a new department in the structure of the ministry for the preserved near-shore territories and Lake Baikal immediately after his appointment, as his deputy Ivan Valentik stated proudly. Apparently, after this Baikal has started blooming, for the first time in history,” a participant of the forum, Moscow social activist Daria Mitina commented.
It's no secret that there is a critical situation now in the water protection sphere.
So, according to the data of ex-minister of ecology and natural resources (1991-1996), Viktor Danilov-Danilyan, 16 cubic meters (1 cubic meter = 1 billion tons) of polluted sewage are discharged only through the pipes. And not through the pipes? Adequate monitoring is not available, but, according to the same ex-minister, 90% is non-point (diffuse) pollution. The paradox is that the money that companies pay for the negative impact on nature is purely symbolic because that law regulating the size of these payments was adopted in December 1991.
And now about Baikal, 60% of the coast of which is overgrown with Spirogyra, algae dangerous for the pond. Environmentalists have been beating the alarm for years on the fact that its pollution is becoming catastrophic. Now, because of the excess of nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, the lake has ‘bloomed.’ This is due to discharges of untreated wastewater and the use of detergents containing phosphates. More than 60% of the polluted runoff is from the housing and utilities sector. Deteriorated sewage treatment plants do not save the situation – the unique lake is dying.
This is what the unique Lake Baikal looks like now
Is there a way out? Ex-Minister Viktor Danilov-Danilyan, in particular, offers to sell detergents with a content of no more than 1-2% of phosphorus in the Baikal area. It is known, for example, that producers of imported products, such as BASF, Rhone-Poulenc, and others, sell us products containing 17-18% of phosphorus, and they produce phosphorus-free detergents for themselves, that is, without phosphorus. He estimated that with the purchase of ‘free’ products, the difference in budget financing will amount to several million rubles, but nevertheless, it will be much cheaper than saving the waters of Lake Baikal from chemistry. With such an offer, Danilov-Danilyan appealed to Sergei Ivanov, the Authorized Representative of the President for Environmental Protection, to which he received a notification that “the letter has been sent to the Ministry of Natural Resources.” A month later an answer came from the Ministry of Natural Resources, “It is not up to us, write to the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation.” And the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation, after months of silence, said that the problem will be solved within the framework of the Customs Union, but Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, which are part of the CU, object. That's all.
Few people know, but it turns out that there is a federal program “Protection of Lake Baikal.” In the period of 2012-2020, it is planned to allocate almost 26 billion rubles ($410mln) for this program. More than ten billion has already been allocated. The effect is not even zero, but the reverse: apparently, the allocated funds literally go to the deepest bottom of the planet, where they are lost.
Meanwhile, the Baikal has become shallow to a critical level: the drought in the basin continues for several years, but the restrictions on the drainage of water remain at the level of Soviet calculations and amount to no less than 1.3 thousand cubic meters per minute. The functioning of coastal enterprises is designed for a certain amount of water, and it does not bother their leadership, as well as power engineers that such draining can no longer be considered a norm.
Video: Ecological catastrophe in Baikal. Must watch! Algae as oil
Exactly one year ago, during a working trip to the Far East, Vladimir Putin instructed the Prosecutor General's Office to investigate illegal and environmentally harmful activities on Lake Baikal and identify those responsible for the pollution of the unique lake. Also, the president ordered to pay special attention to the effectiveness and priorities of spending and by March 2018 to adjust the boundaries of the water protection zone of Lake Baikal.
On August 31, 2017, the Russian Prosecutor General's Office even sent a commission to Baikal to inspect objects that have a negative impact on the Baikal natural territory, as reported by the official representative of the department Aleksandr Kurennoy. And already in November last year, the prosecutor's check issued impressive figures.
But a year after Vladimir Putin's assignment on Baikal, no positive changes occurred, and the video from environmentalists is shocking.
However, June 28 this year at the departmental board in Irkutsk deputy prosecutor of the Russian Federation Aleksandr Buksman said that the Prosecutor General's Office in conjunction with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Rosprirodnadzor ('Federal Service for the Oversight of Nature') intend to equate the discharge of hazardous wastewater into the Baikal to the location of waste.
Video: The shore of Lake Baikal is turning into a fetid, marshy terrain
“It is necessary to prepare regulatory proposals that equate the discharge of hazardous wastewater into the reservoir to the disposal of waste. Licensing this activity is necessary,” Interfax quotes Buksman, who, among other things, stressed that the Prosecutor General's Office should initiate criminal cases upon the discharge of waste into Baikal.
It is interesting, what did the specialized departments do in the past years in general and a year after the presidential commission in particular? How long will it take them to equate the discharge of wastewater to the disposal of waste, while these same runoffs will safely complete their journey in the bowels of Lake Baikal? And then, how can a criminal case brought against a polluter clean a pond? One thing is clear: Russia is losing the unique lake at a cosmic pace. Its water turns into green slime, and the ‘blooming’ is already noticeable from the orbit: the pictures of the ScanEx confirm that it spreads in the thickness of the open waters as well.
Scientists confirm that there really is an ecological disaster on Lake Baikal
From a long distance, waste water flows into the Volga River...
No less tense ecological situation has developed in the Volga basin, where about 38% of all Russian sewage flows. According to environmentalists, the Volga River has exhausted its possibilities for self-purification, the average annual toxic load on the ecosystem of the river is 5 times higher than in any other water basin of the country. Thus, Russia risks losing its main water artery, which together with the basin occupies an area equal to 13% of the area of Europe.
In 2017 (to recall, this year was announced in Russia as the Year of Ecology), passports of regional projects were developed, which provided 533 measures aimed at improving the ecological state of the Volga, with a total funding of about 250.4 billion rubles ($3,9 trillion) for the period until 2025. Also in August 2017, the Russian government approved the project “Conservation and Prevention of Pollution of the Volga River.”
“In 2018-2020, we will direct efforts to implement the key activities of this priority project. These include the formation of a mechanism for state support for the implementation of investment projects in the field of wastewater treatment, the inventory of objects of negative impact on the Volga River, the preservation of a unique ecosystem of the Volga-Akhtuba floodplain,” said Deputy Head of the Ministry of Natural Resources Sergey Yastrebov.
And in February this year, the Ministry of Natural Resources announced their intention to submit jointly with Rosprirodnadzor electronic maps of the pollution of the Volga in July 2018. But by July they were not in time with the maps: the deadline for their submission was postponed until September, while they limited themselves to compiling a register of the main pollutants of the Volga and the relevant reports.
Scientists call the key problems of the Volga the polluting effluents of industrial and agricultural enterprises.
The river is a receiver of wastewater, as well as surface runoff of the vessel, carrying organic fertilizers, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and others, which is the reason for the silting and tumbling of the Volga. The ecological problems of the river are largely due to the construction of a cascade of hydroelectric power stations (HPPs) on it – this is the so-called regulated hydroregime.
“In fact, the Volga river as such now does not exist, there is only a cascade of hydroelectric power stations and reservoirs, a cascade of ponds. And this is a completely different ecosystem, different from the river one,” notes environmental scientist, chairman of the public ecological organization Russian Green League Sergei Simak.
“We got technogenic reservoirs instead of the Volga river, which means that we need to protect the banks, clean the channel for navigation, raise ships and debris from the bottom, fly baby fishes and conduct many more costly activities. It turns out that you need to watch the Volga, like a pond. And we must be ready for the fact that the costs of maintaining its life can exceed the income from the operation of the cascade of hydroelectric power stations,” said Olga Nikitina, corresponding member of the Russian Ecological Academy.
To improve the environmental situation on the Volga, according to the most conservative estimates of specialists, it will take about 200 billion rubles($3,1 trillion). The amount is huge, and in order for this money to be spent wisely, and not go into the pockets of ‘rescuers,’ strict control over the development of funds is needed.
Moscow resorts: So far, new ‘cleaning’ is only in promises
With the background of the depressing environmental situation outlined above, on May 28, 2018, Mikhail Degtyarev, Chairman of the State Duma Committee for Physical Culture, Sport, Tourism and Youth Affairs, suggested that the Ministry of Health assign Moscow the status of a resort city. The parliamentarian believes that the capital can become a resort since a big role in shaping the appearance of the capital belongs to the Moscow river, which will cope to be the main natural recreation area. By the way, in 2013 he announced in his election promise as a candidate for Moscow mayors that he would build a European-level beach on the Moskow River in the Vorobyovy Gory area.
A visualization of the concept of the development of the Moscow embankments
“If you clean and deepen the Moscow River, bring fish, equip sandy beaches and reconstruct embankments, it will become the trademark of our city along with the Moscow Kremlin,” Degtyarev believes.
This initiative, to put it mildly, amused many people. Especially in the context of the fact that swimming in the main metropolitan river, as well as catching fish in it, can turn into sad consequences, even if you swim and fish on the refined sandy beaches. Sewage samples in a number of laboratory studies of past years indicate that the content of aluminum, strontium, sulfur, copper, manganese, oil products has been significantly exceeded in the announced ‘resort’ water body, and in some parts of the river even mercury. These substances, as a rule, enter the reservoir with sewage from enterprises and communal services (including washings of reagents from roads) and in such concentration are simply unsafe for humans.
By the way, in the summer of 2015, Moskomarkhitektury (‘Moscow Committee on Architecture’) said that until 2035 53 new sewage treatment facilities will be built on the Moscow river in the city's borders. According to preliminary calculations, the cost of construction and reconstruction will be 23.9 billion rubles ($377mln). It is planned to spend 15.8 billion ($249mln) form the budget, the remaining 8.1 billion rubles ($128mln) will be allocated by private investors. Then, they say, you can swim and fish in the Moscow River!
The first part of the installations was promised to be introduced by 2018. The initiative, of course, is useful, but it is not entirely clear where these large enough structures will fit, for example, in the city center. And then: has any of the Muscovites and guests of the capital seen anything like this being constructed in 2018? However, in March of this year, the reconstructed Novo-Kuryanovskoe wastewater treatment plants of the Mosvodokanal enterprise were put into operation, which undoubtedly improved the quality of the discharge to the Moscow river. But this object does not fall into the category of announced 53 treatment facilities.
According to the memoirs of Muscovites, during the Soviet times they swam and fished in the Moscow river, while the capital was full of industrial enterprises and factories.
Now there are no factories or enterprises for more than a decade. Nevertheless, as Muscovites joke, “over the past 20 years, no one has been able to cross the Moscow river swimming, because either the man has eaten up by acid or killed by the mutant fish on the way.” That is why many are skeptical of the statements of the ‘cleanup adherents,’ believing that another long-term construction is expected with the improvement of the financial position of a certain circle of people.