The Bystroye Canal In The Ukrainian Danube Delta

SUMMARY On May 11 2004, the Ukrainian government officially launched the construction of a canal to aid shipping through the Danube Delta. The actual digging started on 16 May 2004. The Government has chosen a route called the Bystroye Canal that will cut through the heart of the Ukrainian Danube Delta Biosphere reserve. This part of the Delta is regarded as the most ecologically highly valuable part of the internationally renowned Delta. Up to eight alternatives have been suggested for the route of the canal including two suggested by a special Ramsar and UNESCO mission to the Delta. The government of Ukraine proposed to use the canal to reignite the shipping industry in the delta as a solution to the unemployment problems in the closed Delta ports. Ships at present have to access through the Delta along the Sulina Canal in Romania. The Government of Ukraine claims that the use of this route costs them billions of dollars per year in fees. The construction of the canal that has begun will have a severe negative impact on both the ecology and the socio-economic situation in the Danube Delta. The action by the Ukrainian Government demonstrates a serious lack of commitment to international conventions that Ukraine is signatory to, breaks international laws and has shown that the Ukrainian government is prepared to renege on promises made to protect the Delta. WHERE IS THE UKRAINIAN DANUBE DELTA AND THE BYSTROYE CANAL? The Bystroye Canal (former Novo Stambulskoye) runs through the middle of the Ukrainian part of the Danube Delta. The Delta is shared by Ukraine and Romania and is found where the Danube finally meets the Black Sea after its 2840 km long journey through 10 countries. The Bystroye Canal starts 7 km downstream the city of Vilkovo.
WHAT ARE THE NATURAL, SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC VALUES OF THE UKRAINIAN DELTA? The Ukrainian part of the Danube Delta is a very dynamic eco-system comprising 626 000 hectares (the Romanian part is 580 000 ha, the Ukrainian part is 46 000 ha) of extended reed beds, small lakes of various sizes and natural river levees of gallery-like softwood forests. On the sandy dunes a complex mosaic of hardwood floodplains forests and dry steppe vegetations alternates. The entire Danube Delta has been selected by WWF as one of the world's 200 most important regions for bio-diversity conservation. It is the second largest wetland in Europe and the largest reedbed in the world. It is critical to a number of globally threatened species. It is home to about 330 bird species, 70% of the world's white pelican population and 60% of the world's pygmy cormorants. The Delta is home to a remarkable population of glossy ibis, spoonbill, different species of egrets and herons. Most of the European freshwater fish species (around 125 species) exist in the Delta. Because of its remarkable bio-diversity, the Delta was listed by Ukraine under the Ramsar Convention as a Wetland of International Importance on 23 November 1995. The secondary Delta of the Kilija/Chilia branch of the Danube is the youngest territory of Europe, growing continuously in front of our eyes. The Kilija secondary delta is rich in examples of the evolution of new deltaic habitats that from the scientific point of view are highly valuable. The Delta is not only of high natural value but is also important economically and culturally. The people of the Delta have their own customs and practices that have evolved through their close relationship with the Delta. Over 15,000 people live in the Ukrainian Delta – the so-called Kilija Delta – all of whom rely on the Delta directly or indirectly. The delta provides water for irrigation and drinking as well as income to the majority of the inhabitants through fishing, reed harvesting and more recently tourism. Vilkovo, in the heart of the Ukrainian Delta, is an important economic center in the region. The city is dissected by small canals and is in many ways comparable to Venice; it was founded by religious exiles, the Lipoveni (Lipovans), 250 years ago. The Lipoveni split from the old Orthodox Church and left Russia to escape persecution. The traditions and language of the original settlers are still maintained. Within the Ukrainian Danube Delta there is a number of ports that serviced the fleets of ships that once traveled through the Delta. However, during the war in Yugoslavia, in particular the port of Ust Dunaisk (north-east of Vilkovo) lost essential business as ships were unable to leave from Yugoslavia due to the bombing of the bridges by the allied troops. The ports declined, many are completely closed, and the existing shipping canals silted up. The ports (including the ones north of the Kilija branch) are now more or less redundant, leaving very high unemployment in the port and the associated social and economic problems. WHAT WAS PLANNED AND WHAT HAS HAPPENED ALREADY? The Ukrainian government has proposed to establish a waterway through the Delta for two main reasons. The first is to revitalize the Delta ports that closed in the 1980s and '90s. The second reason is to relieve the expense of having to use the 70 km long Sulina Canal in Romania as access to the Black Sea. This route allegedly costs the Ukrainian government billions of dollars in fees. The government therefore has proposed to use the Kilija branch on the border between Romania and Ukraine as a shipping way and to construct a canal through the Ukrainian Danube Delta to avoid these fees and to generate its own revenue from foreign ships. The previous route to the port of Ust Dunaisk used by ships to access Ukraine has silted up due to neglect. However, the government has chosen not to restore that route but to select a second route, the Bystroye Canal (former Novo Stambulskoye branch) that is shorter (by 9 km and deeper by 4.20 m) and therefore less expensive to construct and maintain. This may prove to be a false economy as the route is likely to be more liable to silting than others and might therefore cost more in the end. The government intends to finance the construction and maintenance of the canal from the fees levied to use the canal. There are economists however who claim that the government is overestimating the income that would be generated through this canal. Other options have been proposed that would provide solutions to the root problems but these are considered by the government as unfeasible. The project comprises two phases: • Phase I (completed in 2004) – on the Bystroye branch, comprising the construction of: - a maritime access canal (3.3 km long, 100 m wide and 7.65 m deep) at the mouth of Bystroye branch - a protection dyke, north of this canal, as well as dredging works on the Vilkovo-Black Sea route • Phase II – on the Chilia branch, between Vilkovo and Ceatal Izmail, comprises dredging works in 11 critical points to ensure a minimum depth of 7.65 m. According to the project, the total length of the canal is more than 172 km and it should allow the passage of both river and marine vessels with the maximum length of 125 meters, width of 17 meters, draft of 7.2 meters. The announced competitive advantages of the Ukrainian canal in comparison with the Romanian one are the following: - two-way passage of vessels; - 24 hour a day passage regimen; - lower rates. After the initial construction work in 2004, the canal was officially launched on 11 May 2004. In 2005, there was high water, which resulted in silting. Besides, the state funding for canal deepening work was terminated. One of the reasons was active protests of environmental organizations. The significance of pressure from environmental organizations and its influence on the decision to delay construction is acknowledged by the Ukrainian company "Delta Lotsman" on their web-site. The company is a principal for construction and operation of the canal. No major cleaning of the canal bed was conducted till November 2006. During 2005-2006, only ships with 5.85 meter draft were able to pass the canal. Mainly, the canal was used only by Danube Steamship Line (based in Ukraine). The termination of construction has resulted in growth of the project total cost by about 54,000 USD according to estimation of "Delta-Lotsman". In November 2006, the Ukrainian Government of V. Yanukovych decided to continue the construction. The canal was officially launched on May 10, 2007. Before that, it was operated for one month in April 2007 in test regimen. During this time, 50 ships passed through the canal. Since November 2006, environmental monitoring has also been conducted in the region with involvement of qualified Ukrainian institutions, and first of all Kharkiv Research Institute for Ecological Problems. The monitoring first of all covers hydrological, hydrochemical and ichthyologic parameters. The results of the monitoring reports as announced publicly show no negative effects of the project on the Delta. Positive EIA conclusion was also received. The ecological monitoring (including bird populations) is conducted by the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve. They tell about negative effects of the project on biota and insist on termination of construction. The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine approved the second stage of construction on May 16, 2007. Now the Parliament is expected to approve the allocation of financial resources for construction from the state budget. The total required amount is about 30 million USD. The construction is expected to start in summer 2007. It is indicative that since the approval of the project, the official position of Ukrainian government officials as to the canal's economic feasibility has been changing. At the stage of approval, argumentation was provided to justify profitability of the project. The termination of financing coincided with the appointment of several new ministers of transport. Mr. Victor Bondar who was the Minister of Transport from September 2005 to August 2006, announced several times that the project is loss-making, but should be conducted for the strategic interests of the country. Now, the Government of Yanukovych, including the Minister of Transport Mr. Mykola Rudkovskiy, claims that project is economically profitable. The Ministry of Transport justifies that profitability can be shown based on estimations that break-even will be achieved in a 10-year period. At the same time, independent experts question if this period is feasible for Ukraine with its relatively low political and economic stability. WHAT ARE THE ECOLOGICAL AND SOCIO-ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF THE CANAL?  One of the negative effects will be for the world populations of migrating birds, for which the area is one of the most important staging sites in the whole of the Palaearctic region. In total, more then 20,000 pairs of waterfowl breed in the Danube Delta including common tern Sterna hirundo, sandwich tern S. sandvicensis, and little tern S. albifrons, coot Fulica atra, mallard Anas platyrhynchos, red-crested pochard Netta rufina, night heron Nycticorax nycticorax, glossy ibis Plegadis falcinellus, grey heron Ardea cinerea, little egret Egretta garzetta, great egret E. alba, purple heron Ardea purpurea, squacco heron Ardeola ralloides, pied avocet Recurvirostra avosetta, Kentish plover Charadrius alexandrinus and oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus. Over-wintering birds include mainly dabbling ducks (predominantly mallard), gulls (black-headed gull Larus ridibundus, herring gull L. argentatus and mew gull L. canus), mute swan Cygnus olor and whooper swan C. cygnus, greylag goose Anser anser (3,000 birds) and white-fronted goose A. albifrons (115,000 birds or 10% of the number of the population in the Black Sea-Mediterranean area). The Danube Delta is habitat for six globally threatened and near threatened species: slender-billed curlew Numenius tenuirostris (critically endangered), red-breasted goose Branta ruficollis (endangered), Dalmatian pelican Pelecanus crispus (vulnerable), ferruginous duck Aythya nyroca, pygmy cormorant Phalacrocorax pigmaeus and white-tailed eagle Haliaeetus albicilla (all near threatened). The delta part between estuaries of Bystre and Vostochne is one of the most important habitats of waders in Danube region. It's a key habitat for many other waterfowl. Due to multi-species composition of the bird community, the nesting period lasts from April to July. The affected site in the Danube Delta has been recognized as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1995 and was internationally recognized as a Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Program in 1998. The construction can also have such negative ecological consequences as: - Effect on the hydrological balance of the delta; - Increased probability of oil product pollution of the estuary; - Damage to the habitat, spawning condition and feeding base of the majority of the fish species dwelling in this area (including the Danube herring); - Impact on sturgeon population (hydro-morphological alterations are known as the main threat to migratory sturgeons); - Effect on nesting and breeding conditions of bird species; - Negative changes in plant communities (including danger of invasive species and eutrophication); and - Increased noise pollution in 5 km zone around canal, and negative influences on the fauna of the reserve. On the positive side, the canal may bring some economic benefits to some (but not all) of the ports that once serviced the Delta. However the net impact is likely to be negative. Most of the population who live in the area rely on the Delta for their livelihoods, which will be threatened by the destruction to the natural delta systems. Many of the smaller canals so important for local fisherman are likely to be silted up and even the canals that dissect the city of Vilkovo may disappear once the canal is constructed. The Bystroye branch will be rectified and deepened from 4.20 m to 7.20 m, its riverbanks reinforced, and a 3 km dam into the Black Sea will be built.  WHAT INTERNATIONAL TREATIES AND AGREEMENTS ARE CONCERNED? The construction of this canal will seriously contravene a number of international agreements to which Ukraine is a signatory even if it may not have ratified them all. 1. Convention on Biodiversity (Article 14) 2. Espoo Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Paragraphs 2.3 and 6, article 2) 3. Convention on Cooperation for the Protection and Sustainable Use of the Danube River (Danube River Protection Convention) (Articles 5, 6, 10, and 11) 4. The Bonn Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Articles II (2.3), III (4)) 5. The African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) Articles I, II, III 6. Memorandum of Understanding Concerning Conservation Measures for the Slender-billed Curlew (MOU for the Slender-billed Curlew) 7. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Article 3, 4, 5) 8. The Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Paragraphs 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9 of Article 6) 9. The Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Articles 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10) 10. Bucharest Convention on the Protection of the Black Sea against Pollution (2003 Protocol on the conservation of biodiversity and landscapes) 11. The Joint Declaration on the creation of the Lower Danube Green Corridor including a network of protected, proposed protected, and restoration area signed by the countries of the Lower Danube: Romania, Bulgaria, Moldavia and Ukraine on 5 June 2000. WHAT ABOUT THE EU? Water Framework Directive (WFD) Ukraine should be involved in the production of a single river basin management plan in order to achieve the WFD "good ecological and chemical status" objectives in the whole of the river basin, as the Danube is an international river basin district (RBD) according to Article 13.3 of the WFD. This means that – at the very least – the Danube riverine countries, in particular Romania, should be concerned as the project will prevent the achievement of the WFD objectives in the RBD. It is unclear whether Ukraine can be asked to subject the project to the derogations in Article 4 of the Directive and the public participation processes surrounding them.EU "NEIGHBOURHOOD" POLICY: WIDER EUROPE  The European Commission and Member States have recently approved allocation of an additional €22 million to Ukraine to acknowledge the progress made in implementing the reform agenda in the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy. This aims to increase prosperity and stability of the countries that share a border with the EU. WWF believes Ukraine should not be awarded "prize money", given its poor record on environmental governance, regional cooperation on environmental issues, respect for international agreements, and actions to prevent deterioration and sustainably manage natural resources; all key parts of the EU-Ukraine Action Plan. ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES? Two other options were suggested following a Ramsar and UNESCO mission to the Delta in October 2003. They recommended that "in order to make a well-informed decision, the Government of Ukraine needs to have … the results of a comprehensive environmental impact assessment comparing three main choices." They recommend further that preventing damage rather than repairing it ex post is the cheapest option and ecological compensation measures need to be planned and executed in parallel with the planning of the construction of any waterway, and their success in terms of the protection of species and habitats need to be monitored. The mission considered that choice A, the Bystroye canal, would represent the worst solution because the damage to the natural environment would be unacceptably high and the high costs of the required level of compensation would outweigh the benefits. The mission selected option B (Ocheakovski) as the best short to medium term option. In the long term however they suggested that the best option was option C, which is a plan to construct the waterway outside of the dynamic part of the delta area. This will be the most expensive in the short term (international funding may be possible if this is taken) but will have far lower maintenance cost in the future, and have the least environmental impacts of the three options. In addition, the mission suggests strongly that in addition to the ecological compensation measures, measures to improve the functioning of the Danube Biosphere Reserve need to be undertaken, including strengthening of the capacity to support sustainable tourism.  WHAT IS WWF RECOMMENDING? WWF is asking the government of Ukraine to halt all the construction works on the Danube Delta immediately. Although WWF supports the idea of a socially and economically justifiable waterway to the Black Sea, it requests that the government of Ukraine discuss the route of this waterway, as well as possible less environmentally damaging and economically expensive alternatives, directly with the Ramsar Convention, UNESCO and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR). Alternatives should be identified and its economic, social and environmental impacts assessments developed. WWF is happy to support the search for alternatives together with the other major agencies working in the Delta. WWF is requesting that a Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment is completed to comply with the international standards which is developed through a transparent and participative process. WWF also requests that additional measures to improve the functioning of the Danube Biosphere Reserve be undertaken in line with the recommendations made by the Ramsar/UNESCO mission in October 2003.

by World Wide Fund for Nature