Staunton, December 24 – To rescue the Volga River, Russia’s chief internal waterway from dying from pollution that means ever fewer people can use its water and increasing siltification which means ever fewer boats and barges can ply it will cost on the order of 200 billion rubles (3.3 billion US dollars), experts say.
And such a project may lack of glamour of Putin’s giant projects like the bridge to Crimea, it must be carried out now because otherwise the lives of the 60 million Russians who live in its watershed and the Russian economy as a whole will be adversely affected as half of the country’s industrial production occurs along its banks (mk.ru/ecology/2019/12/24/reanimaciya-volgi-eksperty-oboznachili-zadachi-kotorye-pomogut-im-vosstanovit-ekosistemu-reki.html).
At present, addressing the problems of the 3350-kilometer-long Volga is one of 11 ecological national projects. At present, 38 percent of all untreated wastes in the Russian Federation, seriously harming the river. Under the project’s terms, that share is to fall by 70 percent over the next four years.
Unless that is done, the Volga will die and it will further destroy the White Sea into which it flows. That body of water is now “a cemetery for wastes formed by a former chemical plant,” officials say; but saving it will be hard because the problem is so “colossal.”
Russians want clean air and clean water, polls show, but these come at a price. Water expert Elena Dovlatova points out that most of the 1166 water treatment plants along the Volga are out of date and must be significantly modified or even replaced completely, requiring money from the federal government, the regions, and banks.
The last will help but only if the projects offer them attractive terms, she says.
Because of the contamination, many kinds of fish have already disappeared; and others like the beluga are at the brink of extinction. Siltification is a serious problem, as is the raising of ships which have sunk in the river in the past. Doing that, the experts say, is no easy task either and requires careful planning.
While sunken vessels both contaminate the water and promote the silting up of channels, they also now serve as habitats for wildlife. Simply pulling them up, however sensible that sounds, may end by making the problems of the Volga still worse.