Case Lake Sevan - Integrated Environmental Assessment of Lake Sevan (Armenia)

Lake Sevan, located in the central part of the Republic of Armenia (altitude: 1 900 m above sea level, surface area: ~1 200 sq.km, volume ~34 bln cub. m. Inflow: 28 rivers, outflow: river Hrazdan) is the largest lake in Armenia and the Caucasus region. It is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the world. The lake is the part of the 150.1 th. ha Sevan National Park, which consists of 4 protected reserve zones (in total 3514 ha), recreational and economic zones.  

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Environmental challenges

The lake faces environmental challenges, caused by overexploitation of its water resources in the Soviet period for Sevan- Hrazdan hydro-power cascade and irrigation, resulting in the decrease of the lake level by ~20m, and volume - by 26,5 bln cub. m., as well as water pollution from human activities and increase of average water temperature, causing eutrophication, reduction of dissolved oxygen and water transparency from 13 to ~3m. Sevan suffered significant biodiversity loss in all biological components. Only fish resources have decreased by ~50 times, especially affecting the endemic species.

Measures

The multilateral scientific research concluded that for the restoration of the environmental balance the water level of Sevan needs to be risen up to 1903,5 m as a minimum. A program of rising the lake’s level has started in the 80’s. However, due to energy shortages caused by the closure of the Armenian Nuclear power after 1988 earthquake and military actions in the region in the 90’s resulting in energy blockade of the country, the lake’s use for hydroelectric power was resumed and the water level began to decline again.

The situation has been reverted after the restoration of the country energy system and adoption of 2 laws: On the Lake Sevan (15.05.2001) and On Adoption of the Annual and Complex Programs of Activities for the Use, Protection, Reconstruction and Reproduction of the Lake Sevan Ecosystem  (14.12.2001).

In 2008 the drought has triggered the renewal of debates around the optimal water use from the Sevan basin. Environmental NGOs have activated the debate in the Parliament, which resulted in the formation of The Presidential Commission on the Lake Sevan Problems which included the representatives of environmental NGOs among its members. The activities of the Lake Sevan Commission led to a number of positive outcomes:

  • The water level in the lake continues to rise;
  • The artificial breeding of trout and the control over illegal fishing are enhanced. As the result trout population is on the way to restoration;
  • Programs on environmental monitoring and sustainable waste management have been activated.
  • The agreement with EBRD on the financing the construction and restoration of water treatment facilities is achieved;

Results

The environmental situation in lake Sevan basins has gradually improved due to the undertaken measures, in particular - the rise of the water level. Water transparency has increased up to 11 m in the central part of the lake. Increase in biodiversity has been also noted.

But a number of the important problems still remain. In particular, the coasts of Sevan were not prepared for water raise in time, resulting the flooding of buildings and vegetation, which affects the quality of water.  Water pollution form the waste from mining industry objects continues.

Project "Integrated environmental assessment of the lake Sevan”Summary of the project deliverables:

2 working meetings with experts were organized

The two-stage expedition to study the environmental situation in the number of lake zones where the environmental risks are the highest, was organized. Samples collected during the 2 expeditions were analysed in the laboratory.

Data from various national information soures was collected, analyzed and compiled into the report

A round table in Aarhus Center in Yerevan with the participation of the Chairman and members of the Commission on Lake Sevan, the project experts, representatives of the RA National Assembly, the Public Environmental Coalition and the media was organized. Ecological community was provided with information on the current environmental situation on the lake, the most pressing and topical issues were discussed

Project outcomes and impact

A comprehensive assessment of the current ecological status and trends of the lake as a result of measures taken produced, based on the existing and collected data on hydrological, limnological and ecological characteristics of lakes in the dynamics was undertaken and its results summarized in the report, "Integrated assessment of ecological state of Lake Sevan" in Russian, prepared as a summary in English and Armenian.

The proposals and recommendations for the improvement of the ecological balance of lakes, were submitted to the Ministry of Nature Protection, Commission on the Lake Sevan of the National Academy of Sciences and the Presidential Commission on Lake Sevan.

Some of the proposals were already included in the Programme of Work of the Commission on the Lake Sevan for 2012. For example a Ministerial order (N5-A, 18.01.2012) for the establishment of a special joint working group of representatives from the Ministry of Operations and public environmental coalition to investigate the impact of the GeoProMining Gold company on the water quality in the lake was issued based on the recommendations of the report. The issue was also discussed at the meeting of the National Council for Sustainable Development with the Prime Minister  (28.10.2011)

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