Connected to Protect The Novodnestrovsk electric power plant at the crossing point of the river with the Republic of Moldova. Photo: Lucia Taut

Connected to Protect

Ukraine and Moldova signed an agreement in June that promises to safeguard the ecosystems of the Dniester River. In early June, the Ukrainian Parliament, Verkhovna Rada, ratified the Agreement between the two countries that outlines their cooperation regarding the protection and sustainable development of the river basin. In the beginning of 2017, Ukrainian plans for the construction of six new hydropower plants on the Dniester had raised concerns in Moldova. The new treaty now requires Ukrainian authorities to consult Chisinau on any actions regarding the river. The Dniester is a source of over two-thirds of the fresh-water needs of Moldovans, many of whom have felt emotionally attached to the river as well since their childhoods.

The Dniester begins from a spring in the Ukrainian Carpathians on the northwestern side of Mount Rozluci next to a village called Volcie. After 1,362 kilometres, the river flows into the Black Sea. In the past, the river was the entry point for many groups of people to invade the kingdoms and principalities of the Balkans, and it still serves today as a border between Moldova and Ukraine as it separates the two countries from its mid-point to the point at which it empties into the Black Sea.

Day of the children celebrated on the bank of the Dniester. Photo: Petru Cliofos  

Resource dominance

The Dniester provides 70% of the water Moldovans need, including those from Chișinău. Furthermore, over eight million people in Ukraine and Moldova live in the river’s drainage basin and benefit from the Dniester’s water. For both the people and the authorities, it is clear that the Dniester is akin to a horizontal fountain that provides people with drinkable water along its entire path.

However, in the summer of 2016, Ukraine initiated a plan to build six hydropower plants on the Dniester upstream of Novodnestrovsk. At the beginning of 2017, the authorities from Chisinau were alerted to the fact that the Ukrainian government had announced a feasibility study for the construction of the plants, especially in the regions of Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil and Chernivtsi where the plants were to be located.

Alecu Reniță, President of the Moldovan Ecological Movement, argues that any construction on the Dniester River should worry both the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine as protection of this valuable “horizontal fountain” should be prioritised over any other project. And any construction of the the six hydroelectric plants should involve a feasability study to see if the supply of drinking water for the eight million people using it would be compromised in any way, Reniță says.

On February 13, 2017 Prime Ministers of Moldova and Ukraine, Kiev, discussed the hydroelectric plants that Ukraine plans to build on the Dniester river. Photo: www.gov.md

Earlier this year, the former environmental minister of Moldova, Valeriu Munteanu, declared that he had asked Ukraine to comply with the provisions of the Convention of Environmental Impact in a Transboundary Context, signed and ratified by both Moldova and Ukraine, as well as the provisions of the Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment. Thus, Ukraine would be obliged to conduct cross-border consultations to assess the environmental impact of the construction of the six hydroelectrical plants. In addition, there was no cooperation agreement between Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova regarding the functioning of the current complex in Novodnestrovsk, which is managed by the Ukrainian side “without any coordination with the Republic of Moldova, often leading to floods or droughts”, said the former minister.

Ecological concerns

Nicolae Bulat born and grew up in a village on the banks of the Dniester – Cureşniţa, in Soroca District. After graduating from Moldova State University in Chișinau, Nicolae returned to “his Soroca”, as he likes to call the city on the banks of the Dniester in the northern part of the Republic of Moldova. In Soroca, one can also find the defensive fortresses built on the banks of the river centuries ago. It is a place that is full of history. Photo: Lucia Tăut

“He was wide, powerful, stormy, blue like the sky, cloudy, and surprisingly aggressive, destroying the fruit of the riverbanks. The water would slowly rise, moving step by step toward the fruit of the gardens. It was impossible to stop it. He has always been master over the riverbanks as well as over the banks of our existence, (…) And yet he was our River, from the world and from the earth. The river that allows us to catch fish”, says Nicolae Bulat whose entire childhood is related to the Dniester River. Presently, many of the fish species in the Dniester are rare, some even included in The Red Book of the Republic of Moldova. Along with ecologists, even local villagers have noted that after the construction of the hydroelectrical plant in Novodnestrovsk, the water has become cold, and therefore the fish’s eggs cannot grow and develop.

The Moldovan Ecological Movement states that the six hydroelectrical plants would in fact entail the transformation of the Dniester into a series of lakes. Naturally, lakes function differently than a river. A river follows a flow and a series of natural cycles which, if not observed, will basically turn it into murky, standing water. According to Munteanu, the ecological state of the Dniester has already deteriorated in recent decades.  The construction of the hydroelectrical plants “will have a disastrous effect on the river’s ecosystem. Furthermore, the water will become muddy and polluted, and many fish species will disappear.”

Moldovan ecologists warn that a river cannot stay alive if you take its water, especially if it naturally flows with a rate of 400 to 500 cubic metres per second, and humans only leave 100 cubic metres of flow per second. This is why, Alecu Reniță says, that through this agreement the Moldovan side will have to insist that at least half of the river’s water flow will have to pass through the Novodnestrovsk dam. Only then will the river have the ability to clean itself, and the aquatic ecosystems will be able to take on new life. Otherwise, if people are left to reconstruct the riverbed themselves, billions of dollars would need to be allocated to them, which would be an impossible task.

Alongside ecologists, even local villagers have noted that after the construction of the hydroelectrical plant in Novodnestrovsk, the water has become cold, and therefore the fish’s eggs cannot grow and develop. Photo: Lucia Tăut

Shared future

The Ukrainian prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, has declared that Kiev will not abandon the construction of the six hydroelectrical plants on the Ukrainian territory of the Dniester River. But following prior discussions on June 7th, the Verkhovna Rada ratified an Agreement between the governments of Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova to cooperate on the protection and sustainable development of the Dniester River Basin. The agreement had actually been signed five years ago, on November 21st, 2012 by representatives of Moldova and Ukraine at the meeting of the member countries of the UN Water Convention. However, the document was ratified in 2012 only by Moldova.

Moldovian website “ApeleMoldovei” writes that the document has “provisions on how to manage a river at the border without anyone suffering”. The contracting parties, among others, are to undertake joint measures to “prevent harmful cross-border influence,” and ecologists see this as an opportunity to save the river.

“We humans must not impede the natural processes of the restoration and existence of ecosystems, but rather give nature what is rightfully hers and allow it to perform its functions free of charge”, Alecu Reniță reminds us.

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