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Balance of interests in river basin management schemes (the Volga river basin)

Congress: 2008
Author(s): Alexander Kosarikov, Natalia Davydova
Prof. Alexander N. Kosarikov, State Duma of the Russian Federation, vice-chairman of the Committee on Ecology Dr. Natalia G. Davydova, director of NGO "Environmental Projects Consulting Institute"
AbstractPresentation of the topic and analysis of the issue Principal conflict of interests during management of complex structures is always caused by the striving towards high centralization. This objective tendency of looking for fast solutions for specific problems lowers overall stability of the system. The most vulnerable structures in this respect are large rivers basins. Let us consider the case of Volga river basin. Construction of a cascade of 11 hydroelectric stations seems to be quite sound from economical standpoint, because of high anthropogenic and industrial load on this basin: forty per cent of population of the Russian Federation lives there. High centralization of transportation of goods eventually formed trans-European transport corridor, which created another source of technogenic stress on Volga river basin. Hydrological estimates show that generation of hydropower nearly reached its upper limit. But the limits of environmental stability have been trespassed long time ago, which caused eutrophication and waterlogging of reservoirs, negative changes in fish populations, irreversible changes of riverbank ecosystems, and very high microbial contamination of river waters. This creates health risks, because surface waters are used as the main source of drinking water supply. Accumulation of over 35 cubic kilometers of water in man- made reservoirs has changed geological pressure. In general, over 600 liquid waste storages and 400 mining slag storages and tailing pits exist in the Russian rivers basins. Presentation of the findings Certain legislative decisions in the area of river basin management are required to overcome these negative trends. The survey of river basins and hydro-engineering structures provided initial data for classification of owners and determination of structure of ownership of water objects. Based on the results of this analysis, the researchers developed technical solutions for implementation of best available technologies and proposed integrated approach to legal management of responsibility at different administrative levels. The researchers developed large-scale project of innovative codification of legal norms in the area of water resources management. This codification has laid foundation for Water Code of the Russian Federation, adopted in 2006. The new Water Code contains, inter alia, several radical clauses for decentralization of water management. This Law takes into consideration that water is an important life- support means, a necessity, which should not be bought and sold in the market. There are risks of commercialization of water supply and water-intake, which should be avoided. The main principles of Water Code are federal ownership of water objects (excluding ponds and water-logged quarries), basin principle of management of water reservoirs, and “user pays” principle. Drinking water supply and communal uses of water have priority over other uses. An important new feature of Water Code is declaration of priority of federal ownership for all natural and man -made reservoirs. At the same time, the list of water objects, which may be privately owned, has been broadened. The conditions of access to utilization of water objects have been changed. The main types of utilization of water resources are now regulated by norms of civil legislation. The new Water Code has declared water basin principle of water resources management in the Russian Federation, which was divided into 20 large river basins. While the new Code established federal property on large and inter-regional rivers, it declared that lakes and small rivers may be privately owned by the landowners. Thus, real responsibility for the state of water intake is now vested with regions, municipalities and landowners. The most intensely used Volga basin is now divided into four basin departments: Upper Volga, Lower Volga, Kama and Oka. This is a serious step towards decentralization and respect for local territorial interests. The new Water Code also contains the clause about Basin Councils, which declares direct involvement of regional representatives, scientific and public organizations in decision making and distribution of relevant resources. Conclusions and recommendations At the same time, several legislative innovations of new Water Code require additional legal intervention. For example, Basin Council clause needs to be supplemented by additional normative acts, which establish procedures for formation and functioning of such councils. The responsibilities of Basin Councils should be broadened; they should have the right to “veto” actions, which worsen situation within the basin. Basin Councils should also regulate relations among regions within the basin. It is even recommended in some cases to transfer management functions from the regions to the Basin Councils. The limits of competence and rules of direct participation of regions and NGOs in development and adoption of relevant decisions should be clarified. This especially relates to important water resources management decisions on regional and federal levels. One weakness of the new Water Code relates to uncertainty and too schematic description of economic mechanism of functioning of water sector. There are no guarantees for subventions from Federal budget to regional budgets. These subventions should be large enough to provide regions with means to implement delegated responsibilities, and should be independent from earnings from water user fees. It is very important to establish mandatory insurance of hydro-engineering structures. Globalization of transport flows needs to be legislatively regulated. Openness of internal waterways for international transport should follow the principle of adaptation of transportation technologies and logistics to natural features of waterways, and not vise-versa.
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