07ASTANA1877, KAZAKHSTAN FACES ANOTHER POTENTIAL WATER CRISIS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07ASTANA1877 2007-07-10 05:53 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO7731
RR RUEHDBU
DE RUEHTA #1877/01 1910553
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 100553Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0038
INFO RUEHAH/AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT 7189
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0006
RUEHEK/AMEMBASSY BISHKEK 8051
RUEHDBU/AMEMBASSY DUSHANBE 2174
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 1433
RUEHNT/AMEMBASSY TASHKENT 7956

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ASTANA 001877 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR OES/SCI M. O'MARA, OES/PCI P. HUDAK 
EPA FOR OFFICE OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, B. FREEMAN 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: SENV PGOV PREL KZ
SUBJECT: KAZAKHSTAN FACES ANOTHER POTENTIAL WATER CRISIS 
 
REF: 06 ASTANA 934 
 
1. (SBU) Summary: As a country short on water, Kazakhstan 
relies heavily on the resources of the Ili-Balkash Basin, 
particularly the Ili River and Lake Balkhash.  Mismanagement, 
abuse, and increased water use by neighboring China all now 
threaten the Basin,s long-term sustainability.  The problem 
is particularly acute at Lake Balkhash, an already fragile 
ecosystem at risk if water use practices remain unchanged. 
The GOK is increasingly focused on protecting its water 
resources but is hampered by a shortage of technical experts 
and a strained relationship with China on water issues. End 
summary 
 
The Ili-Balkhash Basin: Kazakhstan,s Fertile Center 
 
2. (U) The Ili-Balkhash Basin, which encompasses parts of the 
Zhambyl, East Kazakhstan, and Almaty Oblasts as well as 
China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, occupies 13% of 
Kazakhstan's total territory (353,000 square kilometers) and 
has a population of 3.2 million people.  Lake Balkhash and 
the Ili River form the heart of the basin.  Lake Balkhash, 
the second largest lake in Central Asia and the third largest 
in Eurasia, has a length of 600 kilometers, a width varying 
from 5 to 70 kilometers, and a total surface area of 16,000 
km2.  The lake is freshwater in its western section, salt 
water in its eastern section.  The Ili River originates in 
China before stretching through Kazakhstan for 815 
kilometers. The river provides Lake Balkhash with 80% of its 
water. 
 
3. (U) The basin's wealth of water resources and favorable 
climatic conditions make it one of the most fertile areas in 
Kazakhstan.  The basin contains 45,000 rivers, temporary 
currents, and gullies with a total length of 118,000 
kilometers and another 24,000 lakes and man made reservoirs. 
 The total area of agriculture lands is 8.18 million 
hectares, including 6.53 million hectares of natural grazing 
pastures.  The basin is home to over 50 species of mammals 
and 120 species of birds. 
 
The Domestic Threat 
 
4.(U) Misuse, overuse, and abuse of Lake Balkhash and the Ili 
River threaten the long-term sustainability of the 
Ili-Balkhash basin.  The lake,s ecosystem is fragile because 
it is extremely shallow, with an average depth of only 5.8 
meters.  Intensive economic activity in southeastern 
Kazakhstan has led to increased water consumption. 
Watersystems that drain into nearby farms consume twice the 
water that similar sized European and American operations 
require.  As a result water levels have decreased, and 
coastal areas have degraded.  The surface area of the lake 
was reduced from 21,400 square kilometers in 1961 to 17,000 
square kilometers in 1999.  From 1972 to 2001, according to 
the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Division of 
Early Warning and Assessment, the southern part of the lake's 
surface decreased by approximately 150 sq kilometers. 
 
5. (U) Pollution has also done serious harm to the 
Ili-Balkhash ecosystem.  The Balkhash mining and smelting 
plant (Balkhashtvetmet), which sits on the shores of Lake 
Balkhash, pollutes the lake with heavy metal and sulfites, 
according to UNEP.  Bagban Taimbetov, the Karaganda region's 
deputy state prosecutor, told the Kazakhstani media in 2006 
that 1800 tons of dust discarded by Balkhashtsvetmet settles 
on the surface of the lake annually, including 140 tons of 
copper, 120 tons of lead, and 135 tons of zinc.  As many as 
600 tons of heavy metals and harmful microelements dissolve 
in the water and settle to the bottom. He also reported that 
in the tissues of fish caught in Balkhash, chrome content has 
increased 13 times, zinc 11 times, and nickel doubled over 
the last ten years. Bulat Bekniyazov, Ministry of Environment 
Department of Environmental Problems, Sciences and 
Monitoring, told ESToff that fish production in Balkhash has 
decreased by 40 million tons since the 1960s. 
 
The External Threat 
 
6. (SBU) Western China,s growing thirst for water also 
threatens the Ili-Balkhash Basin.  With a booming economy and 
a growing population, western China,s water needs are almost 
certain to keep growing. According to public reports, China 
 
ASTANA 00001877  002 OF 003 
 
 
intends to divert more water from the Ili to develop its oil 
industry.  Anatoliy Ryabtsev, Chairman of Kazakhstan's 
Committee on Water Resources, told ESToff that Kazakhstan has 
information that China has started to build a new water use 
facility for the Ili.  Ryabtsev also informed ESToff that 
China has admitted that the country,s industrial growth is 
surpassing its ability to prevent the Ili,s pollution 
(reftel). 
 
7.  (SBU) Kazakhstan lacks data, however, on China,s use of 
the Ili.  Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Water Resources 
Mukhtar Zhakenov told ESToff in May that the information 
Kazakh
stan possesses is dated, making it impossible to 
predict China,s future use.  In a March meeting, the 
Ministry of Environment,s Bulat Bekniyazov reported to 
ESToff that they have no official information from China as 
to whether they are using more water.  He did note, however, 
that Kazakhstani officials visiting China have noticed an 
increased number of water facilities on the Ili. 
 
8.  (U) In March, Kazakhstan hosted a meeting on Ili-Balkhash 
Basin integrated management attended by representatives from 
Kyrgyzstan and China.  The parties agreed to support 
development and introduction of an integrated management plan 
for the Ili-Balkhash Basin.  They also recommended finalizing 
a draft agreement by the end of the year on integrated basin 
management. 
 
9. (SBU) Talks broke down, however, when China rejected 
Kazakhstan,s offer to send China large stocks of free or 
heavily subsidized food for 10 years in exchange for a 
commitment from China to allow an unimpeded flow of river 
water into Lake Balkhash.  According to Bekniyazov, who 
attended the meeting, the Chinese refused to provide details 
on their use of the Ili River.  The Chinese also argued that 
Kazakhstan already has ample water resources, said 
Bekniyazov. 
 
A Visit to Balkhash 
 
10. (U) In early June, ESToff, Acting EST Hub Officer and 
Embassy Tashkent Scientific Affairs Specialist traveled to 
Balkhash, a city of 74,000 on the shores of Lake Balkhash. 
Upon approaching Balkhash, the first noticeable sight was the 
tremendous cloud of smoke emanating from Balkhashtsvetmet, 
giving Balkhash the look of a U.S. steel city in years past. 
 
11. (U) City Akim Kazhmurat Tokushev told ESToff that Lake 
Balkhash is healthy, and that no industry in Balkhash creates 
serious pollution.  A representative from Balkhashsvetmet 
present at the meeting with the Akim stated that the firm has 
never been fined for environmental pollution.  He added that 
Balkhashsvetmet plans to introduce cleaner technologies at 
its plant, although he could not give a fixed date for the 
introduction of the technology.  The Akim also emphasized the 
importance of Balkhashsvetmet for the city; the plant 
employees 12,000 people. 
 
12. (U) While in Balkhash, ESToff also met with NGO 
representatives Iskander Mirkhashimov of the Regional 
Environmental Center for Central Asia and Sayatbek 
Beysembekov of the Balkhash Environmental Center.  Both 
agreed that the greatest threat facing Lake Balkhash is water 
loss.  If the lake decreases 1 to 1.5 meters from current 
water levels, they said, the results will be catastrophic for 
Lake Balkhash and the region.  According to Mirkhashmidov, as 
the lake bed increases, the salinity of the entire lake will 
increase, and more salt and dust will be blown by wind across 
the Ili-Balkhash region, leading to the melting of glaciers, 
drought, and desertification.  The Ministry of Environment's 
Bekniyazov delivered a similar message to ESToff in an 
earlier meeting, saying that a small decrease in Balkhash 
water levels could lead to many of the same problems 
witnessed at the Aral Sea. 
 
13. (U) Focusing on China, Mirkhashimov reiterated that 
Kazakhstan lacks sufficient data on China,s water use. One 
solution, he suggested, would be to place measuring posts on 
the Chinese border, but he questioned whether Kazakhstan 
would have the personnel to man the posts.  He added that 
Kazakhstan should not make China the scapegoat for all of 
Balkhash,s problems.  Kazakhstan has created many 
environmental programs, he said, but has struggled to 
 
ASTANA 00001877  003 OF 003 
 
 
implement them because of a lack of human resources.  He 
noted that the Ministry of Agriculture's Committee on Water 
Resources only has several working level-experts who are 
overstretched because of Kazakhstan's many water problems. 
 
14. (SBU)  Comment:  Kazakhstan must improve its water 
management practices and reach an understanding with China on 
water-sharing if it is to ensure the sustainability of Lake 
Balkhash and the Ili-Basin.  The U.S. can play a role as 
Kazakhstan searches for solutions.  Post intends to send 
three Kazakhstani water experts to the U.S. as part of the 
International Visitors Program.  Further interaction with 
U.S. water experts will be appreciated by Kazakhstan as it 
attempts to deepen its own pool of experts and may help 
Kazakhstan to avoid an environmental crisis. End comment. 
MILAS

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