Armenia’s parliament on Tuesday allowed the government to increase the amount of water from Lake Sevan that can be used for irrigation this year.
The vast mountainous lake, which is vital for Armenia’s entire ecosystem, is a key source of irrigation water supplied to the fruit-growing Ararat Valley through the Hrazdan river flowing out of it.
An Armenian law allows the government to use no more than 170 million cubic meters of Sevan’s water annually for irrigation and power generation purposes. A bill put forward by the government last week would raise that cap by 40 million cubic meters for the current irrigation season. Government officials said the measure, opposed by the Armenian Ministry of Environment Protection, is needed to prevent water shortages that could have severe consequences for tens of thousands of farmers and their crops.
The National Assembly passed the bill in the first reading by 68 votes to one. The two largest parliamentary forces, the Republican (HHK) and Prosperous Armenia (BHK) parties, backed it despite criticizing the government’s handling of chronic problems with irrigation.
The HHK’s Eduard Sharmazanov spoke of a “choice between the bad and the worst.” “We have to choose the bad,” he told fellow lawmakers before the vote. “We have to take more water [from Sevan] so that our farmers get irrigation.”
Lena Nazarian of the pro-government Yelk alliance accused the country’s previous, HHK-led government of having for years mismanaged water resources and tolerated corruption among officials running irrigation networks. She said Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s cabinet is forced to redirect more water from Sevan to irrigation canals because of that.
Several dozen environment protection activists protested outside the parliament building during the debate. They said that the extra irrigation quota would lower the level of Sevan and worsen the quality of its water. They argued that the level has already fallen since last December.