Russia Is Draining Major Ukraine Reservoir

Water level at key source of drinking, irrigation water is at its lowest in decades
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 10, 2023 7:26 AM CST
Russia Is Draining Major Ukraine Reservoir
Russian troops patrol an area at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Station, a run-of-river power plant on the Dnieper River in Kherson region, south Ukraine, on May 20, 2022.   (AP Photo, File)

Satellite images from Ukraine have revealed that the water level at a key reservoir are dropping sharply in what appears to be a Russian sabotage effort. NPR reports that the water level at the Kakhovka reservoir in southern Ukraine has fallen to its lowest level in at least 30 years since Russian forces opened sluice gates at a hydroelectric plant in November. The reservoir, around the size of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, has supplied drinking and irrigation water to southern Ukraine since the 1950s. It was also a major water source for Crimea but Ukraine cut off the supply after Russia invaded the peninsula in 2014.

Retired NOAA meteorologist David Hems tells NPR that that Russia used the Kakhovka reservoir to refill reservoirs in Crimea and then opened sluice gates at the Russian-controlled side of Kakhovka Hydroelectric Dam as Ukrainian forces advanced in November. He believes that Russia is trying to damage Ukraine's economy by wiping out agricultural exports in large parts of Kherson and Zaoprizhzia districts. "It's as good as knocking out the power grid," he says. Authorities have warned that if the reservoir falls much lower, the cooling system at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the largest in Europe, could be at risk.

Brian Kuns, a geographer who has studied farming in southern Ukraine, says that since most of the affected farmland is in Russian-controlled areas, he's not sure if the intent is to damage agriculture. "It just seems strange that they'd be doing a scorched-earth on territory that they claim publicly that they want to keep," he tells NPR. Ukrainian authorities say Russia may be trying to flood the area south of the dam to stop Ukrainian forces crossing the Dnipro River. The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which hasn't produced electricity in months, is still under Russian control and the UN's nuclear watchdog is in talks to create a safety zone around the plant, reports Reuters. (Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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