Lake Concerns: Group warns that “Armenia’s Jewel” could be endangered by carelessness

The Public Environmental Alliance warns that the government is planning to implement its “Complex Program for Recovery of Trout Reserves and Fish Breeding in Lake Sevan”, without waiting for the conclusion of environmental and economic expertise, and potentially exposing the lake to considerable harm.

The proposed project plans to make the trout production up to 50,000 tons per year by 2023 in nurse ponds. For this purpose 500,000 tons of artificial forage containing nitrogen and phosphor will be put in the lake each year.

“These very elements ensure increased fish growth – increase in unit weight for each unit of forage. We don’t have any data of what will happen with the fish as a result of the artificial forage. Scientific projects like this are complex, demanding much time and lots of funds. So far the Institute of Hydroecology and Ichthyology is carrying out the analysis of forage and analysis of water samples taken from around nurse ponds to test for pollutants – nitrogen and phosphor. The available results of water analysis can’t replace costly studies needed for the approval of such programs. On the other hand, nitrogen and phosphor are the very pollutants triggering water-logging in Lake Sevan,” reads their statement in part.

Member of Public Environmental Alliance, Ecolur NGO leader Inga Zarafyan says Emmi Fruit company, implementing the project jointly with the government, has promised to transfer around 23 billion AMD ($57.5 million) to the Fund for Sevan Conservation by 2023.

“We demand to suspend and disapprove the project, which is aimed supposedly to increase the trout reserve in the lake, but that project submitted as an environmental one is in fact a business-project endangering Lake Sevan,” she says.

The RA president-adjunct Committee on Lake Sevan Ecosystem Preservation supports the project. Committee members Bardugh Gabrielyan, director of National Academy of Sciences Research Center of Biology and Hydro-Ecology, and For Sustainable Human Development NGO leader Karine Danielyan, agree, but with a condition that the supervision will be tightened and a monitoring held.

However, the statement claims the commission has no supervisory function, it is an advisory structure. If the committee later reaches a negative conclusion on the project’s further development, their opinion would have no binding effect.

The findings of the monitoring will be unavailable to the public. It should be noted that even now the committee members refused to publicize the results of water sampling for pilot fish farm carried out by the Institute of Hydroecology and Ichthyology. The reason for refusal to publicize the results is that the studies were commissioned by “Emmi Fruit” Company and the results are owned by the company.

The content of the project directly contradicts two RA laws “On Lake Sevan” and “on Preservation of Special Areas” says Khazer ecological-cultural NGO leader Amalya Harutyunyan. “The ecosystem of the lake should be restored and water quality improved by means of increasing the water level and reducing pollution, rather than doing the opposite,” she says.

The alliance is planning to turn to parliament factions and the Government of Armenia with an appeal to stop the project fraught with huge risks threatening to destroy the lake, which is the country’s strategic treasury of freshwater.

“If Sevan is destroyed, Armenia won’t have anything else to conserve,” they warn.