What Awaits Artesian Basin in Ararat Valley, Lake Sevan and Rivers as a Result of Climate Change and Human Impact

What Awaits Artesian Basin in Ararat Valley, Lake Sevan and Rivers as a Result of Climate Change and Human Impact

What are the tendencies of the decrease in and quality change of the groundwater resources in Ararat Valley, what is the water demand of the communities, how much water do they receive due to water losses, what are the threats to Lake Sevan, whether the rivers can be cleaned of mining wastewater?

Liana Margaryan, UNDP Water Quality Expert of the 4th UNDP National Communication, made a report on these and other issues at a roundtable discussion on "Water Security in Armenia under the Climate Forecast Scenario" held on March 30 at EcoLur Press Club.

Liana Margaryan mentioned that there is a tendency to decrease the groundwater resources of Ararat Valley. According to him, the average allowable volume of water intake, 1094.1 thousand cubic meters, was exceeded, respectively, amounting to 1753.4 thousand cubic meters in 2013 and1608.50 thousand cubic meters in 2016. In parallel, water quality has changed.

"With the decline in groundwater levels, the level of mineralization of water has increased. This pattern was observed as a result of studies of drinking water in 16 villages in Masis area and 9 villages in Armavir region. Studies have shown that the groundwater in Ararat Valley is characterized with high mineralization, with a predominance of calcium, magnesium and hydrocarbons. The maximum mineralization content in the well water was observed in Myasnikyan community, where the mineralization was about 2000 mg/l, and the hardness was 20 mg eq/l.

Compared to 1981, the mineralization of water increased by 1.2-1.8 times in 2017. The highest area was observed in Masis area, where the concentrations of potassium, sodium and chloride in the water increased to 1.7-2.3 times. This is due to the declining water horizon of the artesian basin. The great use of water has led to a change in the qualitative composition," the speaker said.

According to her, one of the changes in the quality of drinking water is the increase in the level of hardness. The total hardness of the water in the wells of Masis area exceeded the standard of drinking water quality (7 mg eq/l) by 1.5-1.8 times, and by 1.3-2.5 times in Armavir Region. Due to the lack of other sources of drinking water, Health Ministry has increased the standard for Ararat Valley from 7 mg eq/l to 15 mg eq/l. The total hardness in the well water of Myasnikyan Community, Armavir Region, is 2.9 times higher than the Armenian standard of drinking water quality. According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the standard for mineralization in irrigation water is 2000 mg/l.

"It seems that we can use it for irrigation, but in case of higher than 1000 mg/l it is necessary to apply a special irrigation regime, otherwise the soil will be saline," the speaker said. According to Liana Margaryan, if the water level decreases or the artesian basin is not restored continuously, the water quality will continue to deteriorate, which will eventually lead to unfit drinking water not only in Myasnikyan Community, but also in a number of other communities.

Climate change is changing the quality of surface water and the amount of water used for drinking. The assessment of these changes was given by the examples of the rivers from Geghi, Meghri and Marmarik Communities.

The characteristics of changes in the quantity and quantity of water supply from Geghi, Meghri, Marmarik rivers were studied. According to her, about 19.3 million cubic meters of water is taken annually from Geghi River to provide 80% of the water supply from Geghi River to Kapan Town, Syunik Region, but there are 75-78% water losses in the system.

"Actually, the average water supply is only 4.5 million cubic meters. About 40,283  inhabitants receive water supply. The amount of water per capita per day is 54.4 liters, about 3.7 times less than necessary according to the standard established in the Republic of Armenia (200-250 liters/day). According to global warming forecasts, natural flow at the source of Geghi River in 2040, 2070, and 2100 will decrease by 5-8%, 10-15% and 18-25%, respectively. Therefore, under the conditions of these water losses, the risk of Kapan water supply is very high, it is necessary to apply adaptation measures," Margaryan mentioned.

Similar changes are observed in the case of water supply in Meghri. "About 3.5 million cubic meters of water is pumped annually from Meghri River for drinking and household purposes for 90% of the population of Meghri, but due to 73-82% water losses, only about 0.79 million cubic meters of water is supplied to 4700 inhabitants. The amount of water per capita is 460 liters per day, about 2.3 times more than necessary. According to forecasts, in the context of global warming, the decrease in natural flows in the source of Meghri River in 2040, 2070 and 2100 will make 8-9%, 16% and 26-27%, respectively.

Even in the worst scenario, if the amount of water decreases by 26-27% in 2100, the share of water will be enough to meet the drinking and household needs. However, this does not mean that we can use it with great intensity and to have so many water losses.

About 3.6 million cubic meters of water is taken annually from Marmarik River for the supply of drinking and domestic purposes to the recreation areas of Hankavan, Aghavnadzor, Meghradzor villages (in Hankavan and Tsakhkadzor), but the water losses are 80%, only about 0.72 million cubic meters are supplied to Tsakhkadzor, out of which 0.19 million cubic meters reaches the town: 6306 inhabitants receive water supply. The amount of water per capita is 313 l/day, about 1.5 times more than the standard established in the Republic of Armenia (200-250 l/day). For the natural flow at Marmarik source, it is forecasted to decrease by 2-4% in 2040, and by 4-5% and 6-12% in 2070 and 2100, respectively," she said.

 Liana Margaryan mentioned that the water quality of those surface water springs in 2007-2018 was also studied and was compared with the water quality in 1980-1990. The river ecosystem changes its properties, whereas the self-cleaning property decreases. As a result, organic pollution in water bodies begins to increase. "There is a 4-12.5% ​​increase in calcium for all water sources, which can cause serious problems, from changes in the taste of water to health problems," she said.

Problems of Lake Sevan

According to the data submitted by “HYDROMETEOROLOGY AND MONITORING CENTER” SNCO of RA Environment Ministry, in 2010-2018, the phosphorus content in Lake Sevan continues to rise, water quality is deteriorating. "About 270 tons of phosphorus and about 1396 tons of nitrogen enter Lake Sevan annually through domestic wastewater, which create favorable conditions for the growth of algae. On the other hand, the effect of rising air temperature is added. There is a direct relationship between phytoplankton biomass and air temperature in the lake. As the temperature rises, there is an increase observed in phytoplankton. The water level is rising, but we do not observe any qualitative changes in the lake and any improvement in the ecosystem. We should bear in mind that the higher the level, the larger the water surface of the lake gets, the faster the lake water can heat up, whereas the increase in air temperature contributes to this process. On the one hand, we heat the water more, spread it, increase the area, on the other hand, increase the nitrogen-phosphorus content in the lake. In this way, ideal conditions for the growth of algae are observed.

Inga Zarafyan, President of “EcoLur” Informational NGO, inquired whether it was possible to restore water resources. In response, Liana Margaryan cited the example of Lake Sevan. "The intensity of blooming is a natural process, which shows the protective reaction of the ecosystem. The lake blooms, the algae absorb nitrogen and phosphorus, take it out of the lake. It is a self-defense reaction, an attempt is made to restore the system. I do not want to say that we cannot return to the previous state. But experience shows that when the impact on the ecosystem decreases, it can recover. If we can carry out targeted measures in Lake Sevan, we will be able to recover it.

Impact of mining and climate change on water resources

"Due to the impact of the mining industry, water resources are polluted with a large amount of heavy metals. Within the framework of the 4th National Climate Change Report, it was predicted for Voghji-Kapan observatory how water quality would change in the event of continuous pollution, taking copper and zinc as mining indicators, nitrate and ammonium as domestic wastewater. An assessment was made according to two scenarios.

If, under the worst scenario, no action is taken and contamination continues, nitrate and ammonium contamination will continue to increase, exceeding 1.7-2 times, as in the case of copper and zinc. However, in case of taking environmental measures, we will see a decrease in up to 40 times in ammonia, twice in copper, up to 10 times in zinc in Voghji River in five years,” Liana Margaryan said.

"If the entry of pollutants into the aquatic ecosystem is prevented, the system will recover and the water will be cleaned due to the ability of the aquatic ecosystem to self-recover. In the case of heavy metals, this phenomenon is quite a long process, but they are able to transform into modified, harmless, assimilated forms for aquatic biodiversity due to biochemical processes when remaining at the bottom of the river water."

April 19, 2021 at 10:03