The losses from the contamination of lands and water bodies in southern Ukraine caused by the demolition of the Kakhovka HPP have been previously estimated at $1.5 billion. Dmytro Zaruba, first deputy head of the State Environmental Inspectorate of Ukraine, announced it at the briefing "Three Months after the Destruction of the Kakhovka HPP by the Invaders: the Environmental and Mine Action Situation, Estimations, and Tendencies" held in the Military Media Center.
This amount doesn’t include the damage already inflicted by the Russian invasion on the country’s nature conservation resources, Zaruba underscored. The Inspectorate estimated them to have exceeded 2 trillion UAH, or $55 billion.
The overflow that occurred in the Kherson region after the dam had been blown up flooded nearly 65% of all forests, and there was a threat of their complete destruction, said Vladyslav Dudar, officer at the Main Department of Mine Action, Civil Defense, and Environmental Security of the Ministry of Defense.
The Kakhovka reservoir has decreased nearly 20 times
Recent estimates indicate that 72% of the Kakhovka reservoir has dried up. 14 cubic kilometers of water got into the Black Sea.
"According to the latest satellite images, the Dnipro River has returned to its natural bed. The water table of the Kakhovka reservoir has reduced from its former area of 2,155 square kilometers to the current 120 square kilometers," the environmental security officer added with a touch of pessimism.
He said that the reservoir's ecosystem was entirely gone. In some areas, a layer roughly a meter thick was made up of dead plants and animals.
Will the territory of the Kakhovka reservoir turn into a desert?
According to Vladyslav Dudar, the area of the former reservoir is undergoing secondary succession, or recolonization. Local residents have already sown around 1,500 hectares with various plants that include more than 60 species.
The reservoir stored 94% of the water for 30 irrigation systems in the Kherson region, 74% for irrigation systems in the Zaporizhzhia region, and 30% for irrigation systems in the Dnipropetrovsk region.
Without farming and irrigation, aridification processes may intensify in southern Ukraine. However, Dudar believes that the Kherson region will not likely become a desert. The annual rainfall here is approximately 400 millimeters, while in a typical desert, it doesn’t exceed 200 millimeters.
Can the sludge of the Kakhovka reservoir be used for agriculture?
During three months, the State Environmental Inspectorate took around 600 samples of water, sludge, and soil around the site of the disaster in the Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv, and Dnipropetrovsk regions. According to Dmytro Zaruba, the samples taken in the summer showed that the sludge of the former Kakhovka reservoir was contaminated with petroleum products and agrochemicals: heavy metals, sulfates, and nitrates. The threshold limit values for iron, nitrogen, and ammonium were exceeded, while the oxygen level was up to 2 mg/l versus the normal level of 4 mg/l.
The contamination with oil and petroleum products has already returned to normal threshold values, as the water has literally washed them away to the Black Sea.
"The Kakhovka reservoir was actually the largest and the last one, receiving the entire cascade of water from the Dnipro, which passes through industrial regions. Accordingly, there are deposits of heavy metals and certain chemicals in the sludge," Dmytro Zaruba admits. "Whether that sludge, after drying, can be used as soil for further farming is a big question."
However, it is necessary to continue to monitor the situation and observe what will happen with the reservoir down to the coastal zone of the Black Sea.
Dmytro Zaruba suggested that the State Consumer Service be questioned regarding the analysis of plants that are already harvestable from the drained reservoir.
Should the Kakhovka reservoir be restored?
The question of whether the HPP dam and reservoir should be restored remains unanswered until the deoccupation of the south. However, there are several factors that should be taken into account when developing a solution:
- food security: many agricultural areas are currently deprived of irrigation;
- nuclear safety: how the lack of water upstream the Dnipro cascades can affect the safety of the Zaporizhzhia NPP.