YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian government has announced plans to spend 44 billion drams ($122 million) in the next few years on addressing the environmental fallout from the rising water level of the country’s ecologically vital Lake Sevan.
The government engineered the dramatic rise in 2000 in response to a dangerous shrinkage of Armenia’s main water reservoir that had begun in the 1950s. Environmentalists had long warned that Sevan’s enlargement is the only way of saving its endangered ecosystem.
The picturesque lake, which has a total area of almost 1,000 square kilometers, has since been mainly swollen by two underground tunnels pumping water from mountain rivers. The government’s decision to cut back on use of Sevan’s waters for power generation and irrigation has been a major factor.
The lake’s level has soared by at least three meters over the past decade and currently stands at just over 1,900 meters above the sea level. About half of the surge has occurred in the last three years.
Under the government’s long-term rehabilitation program, Sevan is to rise by another 3.5 meters by 2029. It envisages that further growth will be less drastic and average roughly 20 centimeters per annum.
The process, strongly supported by Armenian ecologists, has created a separate environmental problem threatening to turn the hitherto clean lake into a swamp. Sevan’s rising waters have submerged large swathes of shore covered with man-made forests.
The state-run Sevan National Park and regional authorities failed to fully cleanse land of trees and other vegetation on time, despite funds allocated by the central government. State prosecutors launched last month criminal proceedings into the alleged misappropriation of those funds by officials and private contractors.
According to an inter-ministerial government commission on Sevan, about 600 hectares of forests as well as over 500 buildings, houses and other structures are currently under water. Also flooded are 16.6 kilometers of shoreline roads.
“The quality of work done at more than 1,000 hectares of other forests, which were cut down previously, does not satisfy us and an additional clean-up is not excluded,” the commission chairman, Vladimir Movsisian, told journalists. He said that the government has purchased special equipment from Finland used for uprooting trees and that it will be delivered to Armenia later this month.
In Movsisian’s words, the 44 billion drams in fresh funding for Sevan earmarked by the government will also be used for dismantling the flooded structures — most of them resorts — and compensating their owners. The official stressed that no financial compensation will be paid for properties built on the Sevan coast illegally.
Karine Danielian, a prominent environment protection campaign sitting on Movsisian’s commission, said the success of the planned cleanup is vital for Sevan and Armenia’s entire ecosystem. “It’s like giving a sick person the right medicine,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service, referring to the ongoing rise in Sevan’s level. “But of course, the key problems are clean water and the Sevan’s coast. If we solve them simultaneously, I think the lake will heal.”