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Cristian RUSSU
The politically reasoned reluctance of the authorities to draw Kyiv’s attention to the Dniester River issue and its consequences for Moldova brought the situation to a critical point
Several years ago, we drew your attention to the passive approach of the authorities while protecting water resources and biodiversity in the Dniester basin. Kyiv’s aggressive policy in this area threatened our country with serious environmental and economic problems. However, if the main risks of river shallowing in 2021 were due to plans of expanding Ukraine’s hydropower infrastructure in Novodnistrovsk, today, an environmental disaster seems inevitable. People were alarmed in late May by shocking footage in the upper reaches of the Dniester after recording an unprecedented level drop caused by the massive and chaotic discharge of water at the Novodnistrovsk pumped storage unit. In this rather banal way, Ukrainian energy workers eliminated the acute shortage of electricity in the country. Of course, no one was thinking then about any interstate agreements with Moldova on the discharge volumes and schedule. When tackling immediate issues, Ukrainians do not particularly consider the consequences. Moreover, the drop in Dniester water level probably seems a mere trifle against the backdrop of such human-made disasters as like the destruction of the Kakhovka reservoir. Meanwhile, the water level in the Novodnistrovsky reservoir fell 8 meters below the minimum summer-autumn threshold, to 114 meters above sea level. That is, insufficient precipitation in the Carpathians until mid-autumn may cause lack of water for both, Ukraine and us. Perhaps, if no election this year, our authorities would just share routine statements that the reasons for such unpleasant situations are objective in nature and stem from Russia’s aggression against a neighboring country. However, now they have to listen at least a little to the needs and aspirations of the electorate. Therefore, in order to reassure the population, the ruling party had to convince their Ukrainian colleagues to pay attention to their neighbors and partners in European integration. In the end, the Dniester is for us not an ordinary river, but the main water artery. As a result, Ukrainian Minister of Environment Ruslan Strelets visited Chisinau in May. Chisinau presented it almost as an “unprecedented event” and evidence of willingness to take into account Moldova’s concerns. The main result of this visit, according to the statements of our relevant minister Sergiu Lazarenco, was the commitment of Ukrainian energy sector in Novodnistrovsk to maintain a minimum level of water discharge at 100 cubic meters per second. We should note that this figure reveals not abstract, but quite concrete things. For example, if it falls below this level, the capital’s water intake will simply halt. Now there are literally 15 centimeters to reaching the critical level of 8.3 meters. Is it worth reminding that the capital’s water supply is 100% dependent on Dniester water. We can only imagine the threat of lacking water for Chisinau residents and guests in the summer. It turns out that these fifteen centimeters keep the ruling regime from catastrophe. Moldovan officials publicly, of course, radiate optimism, assuring that there is no threat, and that the situation is ordinary and repeats almost every year, as well as that there is enough water for the capital. However, such statements stem from the assumption that the water inflow into the reservoir will be comparable to the discharge level. But if not? Then a further critical decline will entail technical problems for Ukraine. For example, if the water level in the reservoir drops three meters more, Ukrainian settlements in the north, including the city of Khotyn, will be left without water. That is, at some point, Ukrainians may be faced with a choice, either to fulfill their obligations to Moldova or to provide water to own population. What do you think they will choose? Another important point is that our politicians are now very narrow-looking, caring only about providing drinking water to Chisinau residents. But this task is not easy either: the relevant services declared a hydrological drought for several weeks, calling on the people to save water. The lack of rain in the Carpathians only worsens the situation. Since the end of May, the water level in the reservoir has risen by several tens of centimeters. In recent interviews, Prime Minister Dorin Recean and Minister Sergiu Lazarenco admitted lack of irrigation water for farmers, while there are still two hot summer months and a dry autumn ahead. At the same time, everyone knows that our national irrigation is 90% dependent on Dniester. However, this is not the first time that the ruling party has put our farmers at risk, getting off with promises of subsidies and recommendations to grow “low maintenance plants”. In such a situation, no one even remembers the conservation of biodiversity and environmental flows during the spawning. But just a few years ago it was one of the main controversial issues in negotiations between experts of the two countries. Then our ecologists fought for every centimeter of discharged water and sought approval of schedules. But no environmental flow was recorded this year. Moreover, the ecologists have found themselves in disgrace, since their explanation of the reasons for what is happening and the indication of responsible party for the situation do not correspond to the official position of Kyiv, which is invariably supported by Chisinau. Meanwhile, our officials are trying to supply the population with outright nonsense as “encouraging news,” which indicates complete confusion. For example, Dorin Recean recently said that, in order to meet the people’s long-term needs, the government is already implementing a program for the construction of main water pipelines that will stretch to the distant Carpathians. Such ambitious and visionary schemes to build water supply channels parallel to the Dniester are comparable to the ideas of Soviet officials to “reverse the Siberian rivers” and, apparently, should instill confidence in the population that the authorities are not sitting idly by. However, this more and more looks like some kind of pre-election PR stunt, while the real situation continues to deteriorate rapidly and has reached the point where even the capital’s water supply is under great threat. Now we can only rely on a successful coincidence of circumstances. Moreover, the point is that the authorities have ignored the problems of the Dniester in recent years, blindly aligning themselves with Ukraine on all issues, even if they fundamentally contradict Moldovan interests. Well, if Chisinau faces the water crisis this year, it will be a natural result of our leaders’ political infantilism.