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2020 May 20

RF Government scraps Russia’s Deepwater System project

Russian Government has actually scrapped the Nizhegorodsky hydrosystem project, a milestone Russia’s river shipping development, having declared the need for additional modelling and consideration of alternatives. However, the modelling has already been conducted and according to its findings, this project has no alternatives.

In pursuance of decisions made by the State Council of Russia at the meeting held in August 2016 and chaired by Russian President Vladimir Putin, hydrosystems were to be constructed for debottlenecking of the Deepwater System of Russia’s IWW to ensure a depth of 4 meters needed for effective shipping.

“The Government will need to take urgent measures to encourage river transport”, - said Vladimir Putin at the meeting of the State Council. According to him, the internal waterways have substantial competitive potential. “Naturally, today we have many other means – roads that also require special attention from us, and air transport, and this is all developing, but the importance of waterways is not diminishing, especially in this country that has an opportunity to make the most of them” said the President.

When speaking at the Congress of Transport Workers of Russia in March 2018, Vladimir Putin emphasized that “a huge reserve for the growth of transport – especially large and heavy cargo – is represented by the development of inland waterways. We have launched measures to strengthen river infrastructure, hydraulic facilities and dredge riverbeds”. “I would like draw the Government’s attention to this: all plans should be implemented in full. This directly influences the structure of freight turnover and the launch of new investment projects on river transport”, he added. 

According to the decision of the State Council, the Nizhny Novgorod hydroengineering facility was to be put into operation in 2022. The project was estimated at RUB 43 billion to be provided by the budget.

Despite those unambiguous announcements and instructions, the project of Nizhegorodsky low head water development is actually being scrapped today.

The letter of Deputy Prime Minister Marat Husnullin addressed to Vladimir Putin reads that the project documentation has not been approved by the Glavgosexpertiza (Russia's Main Department of State Expertise – Ed.) “because of unresolved issues related to environmental footprint of the project and ill-founded determination of areas affected by a water basing foreseen by the project”.

According to the letter, implementation of the alternative project proposed by the Government of the Nizhny Novgorod Region has not been adequately substantiated yet with about two years needed for development of project documentaion.

“RF Government and the RAS have planned the analysis involving the mathematic and 3D modeling of the proposed alternatives”, says the document.

In fact, both mathematical and physical modeling have been conducted already.

The Institute of the Volga Basin Ecology, RAS, has recognized that the hydrosystem is not inconsistent with the environmental conditions.

Conclusions regarding a variety of aspects of the project were also given by Engineering Center of Volga Region Energy JSC, environment and hydroeconomic firm VED LLC, Gersevanov Research Institute of Bases and Underground Structures (NIIOSP), research and production enterprise Aquarius Analytic LLC, Institute of the Volga Basin Ecology of the Russian Academy of Science, Human Ecology and Environmental Health Research Institute named after A.N. Sysin of RF Health Ministry, Nizhny Novgorod State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering, Expert Work Department, STROIKARST JSC.

All remarks of experts and scientists have been taken into account.

Nevertheless, the public outcry resulted in holding of yet another meeting of RAS Scientific Council. The meeting chaired by Victor Danilov-Danilyan, Director, RAS Institute of Water Management, RAS Corresponding, was held on 28 May 2019.

Representatives of Russia’s leading scientific and designing institutes presented their calculations and findings on the issue.

Professor Igor Lipatov, Volga State University of Water Transport, said that the alternative providing for construction of the third thread of the Gorodetsky gateway will not ensure permanent navigation depth and will have a negative impact on operation of Nizhny Novgorod HPP. According to the calculations of the Institute, implementation of the alternative project will ensure the depth of 3.3-3.9 meters at the most which does not solve the problem of guaranteed navigation depth. Meanwhile, the pressure will threaten security of Nizhny Novgorod NPP which poses a risk of technogenic disaster.

“Construction of the Gorodetsky gateway’s third thread has be acknowledged to be unreasonable”, summarized Igor Lipatov.

Dredging, another project sometimes mentioned by the media as an alternative, was also rejected by the scientists. According to calculations shared at the meeting by RAS Institute of Water Management, water level will decrease with the bottom level lowering achieved by dredging. Since the lock sill should be maintained, the depth at the lock sill will decrease and the passage of ships will become impossible. Moreover, annual extraction of 2-3 million cbm of material required under this scenario would mean permanent financial expenditures and environmental damage.

“All variants involving dredging in the tail-bay are dangerous and un-efficient”, summarized Vitaly Belikov, representative of the Institute.

All in all, experts thoroughly analyzed about ten alternatives to address the problem of low water level in the considered sector with all of them acknowledged to be unable to solve the problem. Some of them were recognized to be dangerous.

It should be noted that the Nizhny Novgorod hydrosystem project only foresees construction of a small seasonal storage reservoir (0.15 cubic kilometers) at a 40.5-kilometer long section. It will be an in-channel basin. The water body area will be increased by only 10 square kilometers.

According to Federal Marine and River Transport Agency , the Nizhny Novgorod low-head water development will let increase cargo traffic in that part of IWW up to six times: its throughput capacity will be 30 million tonnes per year versus the current 5 million tonnes per year.

Vitaly Chernov

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