By Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenian scientists have expressed serious concern about a government proposal to stop raising the water level of Lake Sevan, warning of a “irreversible” negative consequences for Armenia’s ecosystem.
The Armenian government was due to discuss a relevant decision drafted by the Ministry of Urban Development at its weekly meeting on Thursday. However, the government removed it from the agenda at the last minute, in an apparent response to an outcry made by the National Academy of Sciences. A spokeswoman said Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian told ministers that the matter must undergo a more thorough examination by experts and scientists before being decided by his cabinet.
Sevan occupies much of the northeastern Gegharkunik province, serving as the landlocked country’s main water reservoir. It had shrunk substantially throughout the 1960s and 1970s due to heavy use of its waters for irrigation and power generation. The process resumed during the severe energy crisis of the early 1990s when Armenia had to increase its reliance on a cascade of hydro-electric power plants on the river Hrazdan flowing out of the mountainous lake.
It was not until 2002 that the government unveiled and embarked on the implementation of a Sevan rescue plan which was enshrined in a special law adopted by parliament. The government committed itself to gradually increasing Sevan’s level by several meters by reducing power generation at the Hrazdan cascade and building a second mountain tunnel supplying water to the lake from another river.
The tunnel went into service in summer 2002. According to the Armenian Ministry of Environment, Sevan’s level has since increased by about two meters. It was supposed to rise by another three meters in the coming years to put Sevan’s surface at 1,908 meters above the sea level.
Some top government officials now seem keen to stop the process on the grounds that the swelling lake is threatening to submerge houses and other structures along its slanting coastline. Many of them are expensive villas, hotels and entertainment spots built in recent years despite a government ban on any construction below the 1,908-meter mark.
A special commission of the National Academy of Sciences dealing with Sevan-related ecological issues is strongly opposed to any halt in the lake’s enlargement. Its chairman, Fadey Sargsian, wrote to the Armenian premier on Wednesday, warning that failure to raise the lake to the planned level planned could result in its “irreversible degradation.” He pointed to a government decision whereby everything built along the lake’s perimeter below the 1,908-meter mark is subject to demolition.
Sargsian’s deputy, Rafael Hovannisian, said the government is seriously considering the controversial proposal because of personal interests. “It is obvious that that is being done to preserve restaurants and villas,” he told RFE/RL. “It is a disgrace. The state ignores the problem of a whole lake for the sake of several [wealthy] individuals.”
The Environment Ministry’s position on the issue remains unclear. The ministry declined a comment on Thursday, referring all inquiries to the Ministry of Urban Development.