The weather in July brought rain to Crimea—but still not enough to save the peninsula from its severe multi-year drought. That same month, the volume of freshwater in Crimea’s reservoirs decreased by almost 8.5 million cubic meters. By August, the amount of reservoir water left totaled around 75 million cubic meters, compared to 164 million last year (Crimea.kp.ru, August 3).
Crimea’s water problem is not a novelty. Due to relatively low annual average precipitation levels and a poor river network, chronic freshwater shortages have been an acute predicament for centuries. The first attempt to resolve this problem came after the drought of 1833, when Finnish-born Russian botanist Christian Steven proposed building a canal from the Dnipro River to Crimea. The idea only came to fruition nearly 130 years later. In 1961, Soviet authorities began construction of the North Crimean Canal, which, after a few years, started delivering some of the Dnipro’s water to the peninsula. Despite the fact that the canal did not solve Crimea’s water problem completely, it satisfied 85 percent of the peninsula’s needs when it came to drinking water, irrigation and industrial use (Istpravda.com.ua, May 13, 2014).
Following Russia’s forcible annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine blocked the canal, but Moscow promised to find a new fix; it never did. Six years on, the peninsula risks drying up completely. This past July, the water levels at Crimea’s main reservoirs, including Bilogirske and Taigan, dropped drastically. According to Reshad Memedov, an activist of the Free Crimea movement, these reservoirs could dry up completely in the fall. At the same time, the Chornorichechne reservoir in Sevastopol is rapidly shallowing, while the surface area of the city’s largest freshwater reservoir—Chorna River—has shrunk significantly. The usually deep-water Biyuk-Karasu River is now only a stream. Meanwhile, the rivers Baga, Armanka and Uzundzha and the small tributaries of the Chorna River have all completely dried up (Blackseanews.net, August 3). Due to high summer temperatures and a lack of precipitation, the salinity levels of water reserves on the peninsula have also spiked dramatically: Kyrleutske Lake, in northern Crimea is now 14 times saltier than the Black Sea. In lakes with lower salt concentrations, observers have noticed intensive development of green multicellular algae (Vesti92.ru, July 8).
The water infrastructure in Crimea is steadily collapsing, and the soil degradation process in the northern part of the peninsula already creating serious ecological issues (Agroday.com.ua, March 15, 2018). Since 70 percent of North Crimean Canal water was used for agriculture, the Ukrainian blockade dramatically affected that sector (Openforest.org.ua, June 6, 2020). Not only has the total area of Crimea’s irrigated land decreased ten times during the last six years, but the excessive use of underground water for irrigation has…