Experts discuss the problems of water reservoirs

9 february 2018

The Analytical Center held a round table on the allocation of functions and authorities during the design, construction, commissioning and operation of reservoirs.

The majority of the water reservoirs in operation today were built before the mid-20th century as part of a comprehensive economic and territorial development system. In those days, the state was the initiator, contractor and owner of all reservoirs and so all issues were dealt with centrally. Today, given the large number of water users and stakeholders, the commissioning of a reservoir often becomes a bone of contention and a source of numerous conflicts as it impacts the interests and property of individuals and companies. Building reservoirs for hydroelectric power plants is one of the most contentious issues.

"The construction of new hydroelectric power plants with big reservoirs calls for comprehensive system solutions in line with water use and urban planning laws. Unfortunately, when new reservoirs are designed, constructed and commissioned, there often appear the problems that can't be solved within the confines of existing laws," believes Oleg Lushnikov, Executive Director of the Hydroelectric Power of Russia association. The expert believes that there are several things to be done to improve the situation: all hydroelectric power plant reservoirs must be redefined as capital construction properties, the procedure for the development of design documentation must be changed, the procedure for issuing construction permits and environmental requirements must be formalized. "It's equally important to approve a state customer. Seeing how the funds are allocated from the federal treasury for the construction of water reservoirs, a state agency must act as the investor, customer and the entity responsible for the financial side of the project," Mr. Lushnikov said. "Coordination must also ensure between the activities of state customers. Construction of big reservoirs and HPPs affects the interests of a whole range of agencies and territories, so a law must be passed to appoint a coordinator of all these activities."

One of the most complex issues is how to reclassify land as a water resource, the expert believes. "When designing reservoirs, all kinds of land categories may end up being flooded. By the time the dam is commissioned and the reservoir is filled with water, all the lands to be flooded must be reclassified as water resources. It's also important that we have all the requisite legislation in place for this process," the expert summed up.

The Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities of the Russian Federation drafted a bill on the design, construction and commissioning of reservoirs and the amendment of certain legislative documents of the Russian Federation and submitted it to the government of the Russian Federation. The draft specifies procedures for the interaction between various actors when preparing territorial planning documents, designing, building and commissioning reservoirs for hydroelectric power plants and defines the authority of various state bodies in the process. However, in late 2017, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation turned down the draft on the grounds that it had nothing to legislate, noted Deputy Chief Engineer of Institute Hydroproject JSC, Vitaly Ivanov. He believes the issue of advisability of developing and passing a federal law on reservoirs and taking measures having to do with the creation of such a law must be considered again. "If it's decided that there is no need for a special federal law, proposals need to be put forward for what amendments should be made to the current laws," Mr. Ivanov is sure.

At the moment, the provisions of the Russian laws that govern urban planning don't even define such notions as reservoir, a body of water, a hydroelectric power plant, waterfront etc. All these notions must be clearly defined in laws and regulations so they can be interpreted in one way only and used in practice effectively, the experts believe.