Problems of drinking water quality in the occupied Crimea

January 11, 2022

Along with the existing water shortage in Crimea, the problem of the quality of drinking water, which is inextricably linked with the general ecological state of the peninsula’s water resources, is of particular relevance. So, according to the official data of the occupation authorities of Crimea in 2020, about half a million of its residents were supplied with low-quality drinking water.

In addition, the entire population of the cities of Yevpatoriia, Krasnoperekopsk, Saky and Krasnoperekopsk district consumes drinking water that does not meet sanitary and hygienic standards in terms of hardness, total mineralization and the amount of chlorides.

To fully understand the problem, it should be borne in mind that in the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the indicator of providing the population with centralized cold water supply, which, although it has been decreasing recently, is about 95%. In the occupied Sevastopol, 99.7% of the population is provided with centralized cold water supply. That is, almost the entire population of the peninsula is supplied with water centrally by utilities. The quality of drinking water supplied to the population in this way usually depends on the state of water supply sources and the state of water distribution networks. And if a quarter of the population of the peninsula consumes poor-quality water, this primarily indicates the unsatisfactory state of these two components.

Regarding water supply sources, it should be noted that in 2020, 1348 water supply sources were used to provide the population with drinking water on the territory of Crimea, including 48 surface sources and 1300 underground ones. Another 16 sources of centralized drinking water supply, including 3 surface and 13 underground, were operated in the city of Sevastopol.

As for their condition, experts note that since 2014 in Crimea, the number of water supply sources that do not meet sanitary and epidemiological requirements increased by 50%, while the deterioration concerned both groundwater and surface water. According to the data of the Russian Federation, in 2020, 53.9% of the water bodies of the Republic of Crimea were assessed as polluted. The water of almost all Crimean reservoirs is characterized by varying degrees of pollution, including extremely polluted in the Front reservoir.

In many regions of Crimea, groundwater pollution with nitrogenous compounds, including nitrates, is observed. In the vicinity of Simferopol, a powerful nitrate pollution of underground aquifers is recorded, and in the area of Sevastopol and the southern coast of Crimea, bacteriological.

In addition, it should be noted that part of the underground water intakes of the Crimea, especially in the northern and western parts, are in difficult operating conditions for natural reasons. First of all, it is assumed that the increased mineralization of water, which in some regions reaches 5 g / dm3 and more, at the existing salt content rate of 1-1.5 g / dm3. In the area of the cities of Saky, Yevpatoriia, Chornomorske, as well as in Nyzhnihirsk, Krasnoperekop and Dzhankoi districts, cells of excess mineralization up to 2 g / dm3 are recorded, and in the central, northern and northeastern parts of the peninsula, the mineralization reaches the above 5 g / dm3.

When assessing water pollution in Crimea, it is necessary to take into account the fact of the lack of official statistical indicators on this issue. This is due to the fact that monitoring and control over the quality of surface water bodies is carried out by different departments and consists of only 41 hydrochemical posts and 48 control points. The state observation network of the Department of Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring consists of 14 watercourses and 6 water bodies. At the same time, there are 1985 surface water bodies on the territory of Crimea, of which: 314 rivers, 46 lakes, 1603 ponds and 22 reservoirs. It is clear that in most water bodies no systematic observations are made at all. Local experts on ecology and nature management have repeatedly noted that the existing monitoring system is ineffective, since it does not allow obtaining operational information about the current ecological state of rivers, is unable to detect sources of pollution in watercourses, most often point-like, and does not give a complete picture of the general level.

In general, the pollution of the peninsula's water supply sources occurs mainly due to the discharge of domestic, industrial and atmospheric wastewater. Since the occupation, this process has acquired several new significant features. So, by 2014, the main sources of pollution were utilities and agriculture, with agriculture in first place in terms of discharges. Today, the main source of pollutants entering water bodies is the public utilities.

The main recipients (recipients) of polluted wastewater are the rivers of Crimea, the Black and Azov (Syvash Bay) seas. Among the rivers, the largest volume of wastewater is received by the main waterway of the peninsula – r. Salgir. The most powerful pollutant of its waters is the city of Simferopol, from the treatment facilities of which about 40-45 million m3 of wastewater is discharged annually, which is about 35-40% of all such discharges into the natural water bodies of the peninsula. As a result, according to the degree of pollution, the water of the Salhir River is characterized as extremely polluted.

By the way, the example of the Salhir River clearly illustrates the consequences of a multiple increase in water withdrawal from surface water sources in Crimea, which occurred after the cessation of the Dnipro water supply through the North Crimean Canal (since 2015, this water withdrawal has increased almost 4 times). According to experts, a further increase in the intake of clean water in the Salhir basin will lead to a critical decrease in its water content and, as a result, to a complete loss of the ability to self-purify.

A difficult practical problem is to establish the real volume of wastewater discharge, especially in the territorial context. The official statistics of the occupiers, given the sensitivity of the topic for the population, avoids the wide publication of such data, and today the establishment of the real level of discharges is mainly carried out by experts. So, in some sources it is noted that in 2015, 154.25 million m3 of wastewater was discharged into surface natural water bodies and reservoirs. Of these, 98.28 million m3 (about 63 percent) have been purified according to regulations. In 2019, the volume of wastewater discharged into surface water bodies amounted to about 120 million m3. As of 2020, the occupation authorities report that the discharge of insufficiently treated wastewater has increased by 203% compared to the level of 2014, and the rate of discharge of polluted wastewater without treatment has increased by 45% compared to 2015. In total, according to experts, more than 75% of discharged wastewater contains pollutants. Thus, with the declared decrease in the total volume of discharges, an increase in their untreated part is recorded. In addition, since 2014, the composition of pollutants in water has also changed due to an increase in discharges of oil products, synthetic surfactants, ammonium nitrogen, phosphates, nitrates, nitrites and other substances.

Undoubtedly, such a situation of water pollution is caused to a large extent by the general condition of drainage systems. In 2020, 66 sewerage treatment facilities functioned in the occupied Crimea, including 11 in Sevastopol and about 1,800 km of sewerage networks.

Almost all sewage treatment facilities built during the USSR, their reconstruction and major repairs were not carried out. Treatment facilities and sewerage networks are morally and technically outdated, the resource is practically produced. In addition, the volumes of effluents entering the existing treatment facilities have increased several times. Lack of qualified personnel, moral and physical deterioration of equipment and structures lead to ineffective operation of sewage treatment facilities, which in turn entails the discharge of untreated wastewater from water use objects into natural water bodies.

The most critical situation has arisen at the sewage treatment plants in the cities of Saky, Sudak and Feodosiia, which require complete reconstruction with the simultaneous modernization of the treatment system.

In Balaklava, there are no sewage treatment facilities at all, and household waste water is discharged without purification into the coastal zone of the Black Sea, which leads to pollution of the Balaklava Bay. Sewage treatment facilities 1 Southern in Sevastopol operate only as objects of mechanical treatment.

Deep-water outlets into the sea have 24 sewage treatment plants in the Republic of Crimea and 5 sewage treatment plants in the city of Sevastopol. Most of them are in unsatisfactory technical condition, which, of course, negatively affects the quality of sea water.

A common problem for all existing sewage treatment plants is the lack of conventional disinfection facilities. The implementation of chlorination in a primitive way does not provide the required degree of disinfection, which leads to the discharge of insufficiently treated and non-contaminated wastewater in the areas of recreational water use of the population.

In addition to cities, there is a serious problem of wastewater disposal in coastal villages and rural settlements, where during the holiday season the load on existing treatment facilities increases several times: treatment technology is violated, especially the quality of biological treatment and the effectiveness of wastewater disinfection. Such problems exist in the villages of the southeastern coast of Big Alushta, in the villages of Prymorsky, Ordzhonikidze, Koktebel.

An important factor and at the same time a problem of surface water bodies pollution is unauthorized discharge of wastewater from private households, mini-hotels, public catering facilities, etc., which are practically not controlled in any way. It should also be borne in mind that the statistics on drainage do not take into account non-sewerage settlements that discharge wastewater directly into water bodies or cesspools.

Sources of pollution of sea water, in addition to the already mentioned wastewater from sewage treatment plants, are also dumping and unauthorized releases of individual mini-hotels, as well as surface runoff. As for the latter, this was especially evident during the summer flood of 2021, after which the occupation authorities were forced to close more than 80 beaches due to the deteriorating quality of sea water.

Sources of pollution of underground water supply sources are rare discharges and solid waste of industrial production, containing a variety of organic and inorganic substances. In agricultural areas, groundwater is polluted as a result of the excessive use of pesticides, fertilizers, organic soil pollution and the existence of unorganized landfills.

An additional source of pollution in the future may be the reuse of treated wastewater. This idea has recently been actively discussed by the occupation authorities, who consider treated wastewater as an additional resource for reducing the water deficit in Crimea. Indeed, for the entire volume of discharged wastewater in 2015, only 0.29 million m3, or 0.2 percent, was reused. Traditionally, the redistribution of water resources on the peninsula is carried out by earthen channels, through which most of the water is filtered, which leads to huge losses – about 20 million m3 of water per year. This factor, as well as the abovementioned level of purification of treatment facilities, gives every reason to believe that the obtained water by its characteristics will not meet sanitary and hygienic standards and, accordingly, will lead to further environmental pollution and harm to public health.

A significant contribution to the level of pollution of water resources is made by the state of the objects of the water supply system.

According to rough estimates, about 4500 km of water supply networks are currently in operation on the territory of the peninsula. More than 37% of the total number of water supply sources operated in the Republic of Crimea do not meet sanitary and epidemiological requirements due to the lack of sanitary protection zones. As for surface sources, this figure reaches almost 50%.

In 2020, the share of water pipelines in the Republic of Crimea that did not meet sanitary and epidemiological requirements was more than 39%. This condition was associated with the lack of the necessary complex of treatment facilities for 36.5% of all water supply systems and disinfection installations – for 3.7% of water supply systems.

Depreciation wear of technological structures, on-site communications, shut-off and control valves and other technological equipment of water supply and drainage systems is more than 80%. This leads to almost 50% of water losses and, most importantly, secondary pollution of water supplied to the population. Water after being purified at water treatment plants, through a system of unsuitable pipelines, reaches the end consumers of a completely different quality, often completely not meeting the standards.

For example, according to the results of studies of water samples from water distribution networks, the share of samples with deviations from hygienic standards for sanitary and chemical indicators in the city of Armiansk was 86.6%. In the city of Krasnoperekopsk and Krasnoperekopsk district, this indicator is 67.7% and 60.8%, respectively.

The situation with decentralized drinking water supply in rural settlements is no better, which in the Republic of Crimea is carried out from 25 water supply sources, 4 of which do not meet sanitary and epidemiological requirements. In Sevastopol, all 8 available sources of decentralized water supply do not meet sanitary and epidemiological requirements. In addition, due to insufficient volumes of centrally supplied water, rural residents are forced to use additional decentralized water supply sources, the water quality in which does not always correspond to the normative indicators and can be hazardous to health.

The indicated level of water pollution in water distribution networks is caused by the following main reasons:

water is supplied to the distribution network without proper cleaning and disinfection;

production control over the quality of drinking water supplied to the population is not performed or is carried out with violations;

sources of drinking water supply are used without sanitary and epidemiological permits.

Forced use of low-quality water negatively affects the state of human health. In particular, an excess of chlorides in water leads to a violation of the water-salt balance in the body, which in turn leads to changes in blood vessels, a violation of the composition of digestive juices, and the washing out of calcium salts from the bones. All these processes cause pathology of the cardiovascular system (hypertension), gastrointestinal tract (gastritis, cholelithiasis), genitourinary system (pyelonephritis, urolithiasis) and the musculoskeletal system, and also significantly worsen the course of already existing hron. diseases.

One of the biggest problems is the high nitrate content of the water. Children are most sensitive to their excess in water and food, especially in the first year of life. In case of chronic poisoning with these substances, a lag in physical development in children was recorded, as well as the development of diseases such as atrophic gastritis and stomach cancer in the adult population. Also, chronic hypoxia caused by drinking water with a high content of nitrates leads to diseases of the cardiovascular, nervous and endocrine systems.

Increased mineralization, hardness and pollution of drinking water with heavy metals also lead to an increase in the number of diseases of the digestive tract and genitourinary system. These diseases are especially typical for the population, the water supply of which is carried out using underground sources.

It goes without saying that the occupation authorities are forced to take measures aimed at improving the quality of drinking water. Their volume, sufficiency and effectiveness require detailed study, taking into account the inconsistency of information on this matter. So far, we can only note that the basic indicators planned by the federal project Clean Water in 2020, according to the occupants in Crimea, have been met by 7 percent.

As a general conclusion, it should be stated that the quality of drinking water in Crimea is characterized by a sharply unsatisfactory condition and has a steady tendency towards further deterioration. At the same time, the cessation of water supply through the North Crimean Canal plays a far from decisive role in such a situation.

The main reasons for the deterioration in the quality of drinking water in Crimea should be considered:

continuous process of pollution of surface and underground sources of water supply, primarily by public utilities;

deterioration of water quality due to a multiple increase in water intake and non-compliance with operating conditions;

great deterioration of water supply networks, which leads to frequent emergencies, losses and secondary pollution of water;

the lack of disinfecting installations and installations for additional purification of water on the existing water pipelines;

shortage of water reserves in reservoirs due to a long dry period without precipitation throughout the peninsula during 2019-2020.

The information was prepared based on the materials of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology of the Russian Federation, the bodies of the occupation authorities of the Russian Federation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation, and the information resource of the CyberLeninka electronic scientific library.

Author: Candidate of economic sciences, expert of the Crimean Tatar Resource Center Serhii Voloshyn.