Sevan Rising: Lake Sevan’s recovery quicker than expected

Sevan's forestland is being flooded by the growing lake.
The data of the Gegharkunik region local administration says the level of Lake Sevan has increased up to 2.44 meters in the last 6 years, to its present mark is of 1,898.95 meters. During the last year the level has grown 37 centimeters – almost twice more than expected.

“The state at least now pays attention to the lake and takes measures to restore its balance. Before, water and fauna resources of the lake were exploited mercilessly,” says researcher at the institute of hydro-ecology and ichthyology, National Academy of Sciences Armenuhi Nikoghosyan. “A lake is a living organism: until it appears in a critical condition, it can resist and restore. But then a moment comes when no medicine is helpful any more. The moment came now and nature makes attempts to treat the lake that is important for the whole South Caucasus and to force proper bodies to finally sober up.”

Sevan’s level is also conditioned both by efficient management of 29 rivers flowing into the lake, and favorable climate conditions.

The ministry’s annual report says the level of the lake its volume dropped from the initial 58.5 billion cubic meters to 33, between 1933-2000, due to industrial exploitation.

Within the period of intense water emission in 1949-1962 the level of water in Sevan dropped for 1 meter per year. In the decade following 1991 more than 6.1 billion cubic meters of water was let out of the lake for energy and agricultural purposes.

“The level of Sevan dropped for 13 meters in those years: high class plants that used to thicken and enrich the lake in the littoral areas and species of fauna were exterminated,” Rafayel Hovhannisyan, director of the institute for hydro-ecology and ichthyology says. “The quality of water in the lake dropped consequently causing the water cover with unicellular algae. That could lead to making the water useless also for agricultural purposes.”

The ministry’s report says the biomass of high class plants dropped drastically within the mentioned period (from 9 million tons to 8,000). The result was that in 1970s the lake became covered with green-blue algae.

Since 2002, though, the level in Lake Sevan has been rising.

Hovhannisyan says the amount of water emitted from the lake in the last 5-6 years has dropped thrice – to 120-150 cubic meters, against the 500 billion cubic meters in previous years.

“Besides, it seems like our suggestion to build additional reservoirs to accumulate thaw waters to use them in addition to the one from Sevan has also been activated,” Hovhannisyan continues.

Representatives of the ministry of environmental protection mention the increase of the recent years is connected with the comprehensive program “Restoration of the ecological balance of Lake Sevan” developed in 2001 within the framework of the Law on Lake Sevan adopted by the National Assembly.

Beginning that year the amount of emitted water from Sevan was limited twice to 150 million cubic meters per year.

According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s natural resource management agency’s head of the dendropark management department Siranuish Muradyan.beginning 2003 Global Ecological Fund and World Bank have been financing Natural Resource Management and Poverty Reduction program that includes also plans for solution of the Sevan problem.

The restoration program provides for an increase in the lake water level by 6 meters within a 30 year period (20 cm annually) bringing it to its highest point since 1957.

“The increase of Sevan’s level can not be anything but useful. Having additional water [resource] is a necessity for having strategic reserve, because 80 percent of drinking and irrigation water in Armenia is provided by Sevan. And no one can predict the degree of air temperature increase in the future causing vaporization of the water in Sevan,” Hovhannisyan says.

Presumably, the increase in Sevan’s level will also cause problems of flooding numerous settlements. However, state bodies are more optimistic about the problems with the increase rather than decrease of the water.

As a result of the increased water level about 450 hectares of land have already gone underwater, 215 out of which is forestland. By the 2005-2006 RA Government Decree, 147 million drams were allocated to underwater cleaning-up of the vegetated and forest areas of the Sevan basin. As a result, 215 hectares have been cleaned.

“The water level wasn’t expected to rise so rapidly. The lakeside cleaning works were planned to start in 2007. However climatic conditions and wise water management contributed to a quick rise of the lake’s water level, and cleaning works started in 2005 in extreme conditions,” Muradyan says.

According to her, organic materials, in case of appearing underwater, will damage the waters of Sevan.

An ecologist of Sevan National Park Vahe Gulanyan says that the land layer is thicker in Vardenis area, consequently great difficulties are encountered while cleaning.

“Area cleaning is implemented by various organizations participating and winning tenders. So far we have received 1,500 square meters of timber as a result of cleanings, to be legally given to Sevan National Park,” says Gulanyan, adding that they are unable to clean some areas because of the rapid increase in water level as well as lack of sufficient means.

By some preliminary calculations in case of water increase to the point of 1,900 meters high, 1,797 hectares of land will be left under it, 1,037 of which are forestland.