#2 - JRL 7210
Russia: River Volga getting shallower, navigation in jeopardy
Source: Ren TV, Moscow, in Russian 1030 gmt 4 Jun 03
[Presenter] The symbol of Russia, the River Volga, can hardly be called deep now. The authorities of the Nizhniy Novgorod Region and local environmentalists are working together to preserve navigation. The Volga is growing shallower every year. Cargo ships are already sailing along some parts of it with difficulty.
[Correspondent Larisa Kashurina] Every day seven-to-eight barges lie at anchor opposite the town of Gorodets, waiting for high water. Captains must go through the sluices within two hours, while the Gorkiy hydropower plant is discharging water. The river in this area is 2.5 m deep. It's enough for passenger boats, but heavily loaded barges require 3.5 metres. Freighters don't load them up to a full capacity but they are running aground anyway. Shipping companies are suffering multi-million losses. [Passage omitted]
The water level in this area has gone down by one metre over the last few years. Navigation may stop altogether in a year, experts say.
[Georgiy Golubev, captioned as chief of Gorodets sluices, speaking to camera] The Volga may split into northern and southern branches.
[Correspondent] The fact that the Volga is getting shallower has been common knowledge for years, but intensive economic activity on its banks has continued non-stop. In Nizhniy Novgorod Region they are trying to find a solution, but the choice is limited. Most big trees that shored up the banks of the river were cut down long ago. The new ones need decades to grow. Last year they tried to clean the bottom of the river, but the whole system of sluices would have to be re-built if the river bed is made deeper. Now they are working on a project for the construction of a dam, which may be implemented in 2005. Some territory will go under water but there is no other way to save the river, experts say. [Passage omitted.]
The construction of a dam will cost R10bn. Neither the local nor the federal budget can provide this sum. The regional administration is pinning its hopes on businessmen. Shipping companies have given no promises so far, but if they don't loosen their purse-strings now, they would probably have to hire barge hauliers in a couple of years.