Russia’s Regions Work on Programs to Improve Pechora River’s Ecology

Authorities of the Komi and Nenets Regions are working on a program to improve the ecology of the Pechora River’s basin. The Pechora is the main river route, which crosses both regions. Experts told TASS about the main problems in the regions and about possible solutions.

Komi’s Minister of Natural Resources Roman Polshvedkin told TASS the region had joined the federal Ecology project. “Since the Pechora is on that list, we are working on special programs, including, in waste treatment,” the minister said, adding the river’s tributaries come from areas of oil fields, and it is most important to make sure oil products do not get into the rivers.

A special aspect is to prevent negative consequences from high water seasons. Every year, villages in the Ust-Tsilemsky district are covered with water. In 2018, the Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered allocating funds to finance works, which may improve the situation there, including by stopping any construction in flooded areas, the minister added.

The Pechora’s basin

Komi’s head of the natural resources watchdog, Rosprirodnadzor, Alexander Popov stressed the Pechora and its tributaries take a big share of Komi’s territory, right where most oil, gas and coal producers are working.

“The Usa River in coal-producing Vorkuta is the Pechora’s main tributary, and there we see problems of mine waters, which flow into river basins; dug-out soil hills, off which soil and sand get into waters. Those problems are not so big as where oil producers work, but they do exist,” he said. “The oil producers are doing much to improve the ecology, but their efforts are not enough.”

According to him, the authorities plan works, aimed both at correcting the gained ecology damage and at preventing further pollution.

Polluting drains

The Nenets Region’s Deputy Head of the Natural Resources, Ecology and Agriculture Complex Department Sergei Chibisov has a similar opinion. According to him, the Pechora’s main threats are first of all oil and coal production, oil processing, accidents at pipelines, as well as drainage from houses in the cities and villages along the rivers.

“Most pollutants get into the Pechora from smaller rivers, among which the most polluted are the Ukhta, Izhma, Vorkuta and Inta, which cross Komi’s industrial districts,” he said.

The river suffers also from vessels – high shares of oil products are in the water in the summer period and depend on how intensive the navigation is.

The Pechora and its tributaries are known for high natural pollutants – those background concentrations of iron, copper, zinc and phenols are beyond limits, he continued.

In the Nenets Region, “all drainage after the biology purifying is not clean enough,” the official said. “The main reason for that is the excessive use of equipment and its deterioration.”

Besides, in 2016, ecologists registered along the Pechora River in the Nenets Region 93 unattended vessels. By now, 38 of them have been cleared, and in 2018 the region will remove another 17 vessels and revegetate about 1.6 hectares. In 2017, the region closed and revegetated areas of 45 illegal landfills along the river.

“Ousted” fish

An expert in bio resources, Igor Studenov, of the Northern Branch of the Polar Institute for Fish and Ocean Studies, told TASS state of the Pechora’s bio resources are much worse than it used to be in the 1970s. “This was the time of the oil and gas complex’s development, the climate warming, the changed legislation, which allows a different use of forest resources,” he said.

According to the expert, Pechora’s whitefish have not recovered from the accident of 1994, the so-called Usa accident – several failures at a worn-out oil pipeline.

“Back then, the Pechora’s main tributary – the Usa River and its basin – was filled with oil, and all this mixture was moving towards the Pechora,” he said. “The whitefish is the long-cycle fish, it takes them ten years to grow up for reproduction; the accident was in 1994, and we could see the first reproduction only after 2004, however, the fish has not recovered yet.”

The redfish, like salmon, suffer less from oil accidents. However, they depend more on the state of forests, and suffer from additional soil getting into the water if trees are cut off along the shores, he continued.

“If a territory is covered with forests, the snow melts gradually in spring, the water goes down; but if trees are cut there: here is the sun, the snow melts in an instant, the water roars into the river taking soil and sand with it – thus, rivers become shallow and the hard soil moves down – in our case, from Komi to Nenets – and lays on the bottom there,” he said, explaining how rivers in the Nenets Region are getting less deep.

As the rivers are getting shallow, in summer the water gets warm sooner, which is bad for whitefish, and for salmon, the scientist said. “Whitefish does not like warm water, nor salmon likes it, their reproduction times change, the juvenile fish is getting worse.”

Cleaning the river bottom

The State Duma’s deputy, representing the Nenets Region, Sergei Kotkin, told TASS the shallow Pechora faces problems with navigation. “It is a very important river route, it is used for bringing many kinds of cargo: it is used by oil producers, it is used to bring goods to the settlements along the river; and nowadays, the vessels, which used to go to Naryan-Mar, are facing big problems with navigation,” he said.

According to the legislator, the local authorities plan to deepen the Pechora’s bottom.