Kyrgyzstan struggling to refill Toktogul reservoir

Kyrgyzstan struggling to refill Toktogul reservoir
Kyrgyzstan already knows it will struggle to meet its water and hydropower commitments to Kazakhstan this year. / Ekrem Canli, cc-by-sa 3.0.
By Eurasianet February 15, 2022

A senior government official in Kazakhstan has warned that neighbouring Kyrgyzstan is struggling to restore viable water levels at its Toktogul reservoir.

Failure to restore depleted water supplies at Toktogul, the hydropower generator of which acts as the source of around 40% of Kyrgyzstan’s power, may spell trouble for farming downstream in Kazakhstan.

Kazakh Energy Minister Bolat Akchulakov told journalists on January 14 that the difficulty in filling the reservoir had arisen as a result of water discharges and because “natural conditions” made it impossible to collect the amount of water required.

“During the growing season in the south, we always need water. Unfortunately, this year our colleagues from Kyrgyzstan are saying that they are unable to accumulate enough water [in the Toktogul reservoir],” Akchulakov said.

Kyrgyz officials have been signalling the possibility of this eventuality since last year. In October, Kyrgyz Deputy Energy Minister Taalaibek Ibrayev said at a regional conference that it was imperative that Toktogul be allowed to fill in 2022 and he warned that this requirement would have consequences for neighbours.

“This situation will not allow the region to successfully get through the growing season next year,” Ibrayev told the conference.

Toktogul can hold up to 19.5bn cubic metres (bcm) of water. At 5.5 bcm, the level is considered “dead” – too low to produce electricity. The reservoir currently contains 8.6 bcm of water, down from 10.1 bcm in mid-February 2021.

As things stand, it looks all but impossible that Kyrgyzstan will be able to live up to its commitments to Kazakhstan.

Under a March 2021 deal, Kazakhstan agreed to supply Kyrgyzstan with 900mn kilowatt hours of electricity. In addition to assuring a reliable flow of water, Kyrgyzstan pledged to send 300mn kilowatt hours of hydro-generated power back to Kazakhstan over a three-year period running up to 2023.

Akchulakov suggested, notwithstanding the concerns registered by Kyrgyzstan, that Kazakhstan expects this deal to be respected.

“We are completing our deliveries this year, by February already. We and our colleagues from Kyrgyzstan are in dialogue – there are around 167 million kilowatt hours left [to deliver],” Akchulakov said. “And then we will expect them to commit to their side [of the bargain]. Because the electricity that they return is, as it happens, connected to the fact that they are supposed to dump water through their hydropower station at the Toktogul reservoir, they generate electricity and accordingly send water with it.”

The prospect of Kyrgyzstan being unable to use Toktogul to generate the required amounts of electricity threatens to worsen an existing power deficit crisis.

Speaking on February 10, the head of the Kyrgyz Cabinet, Akylbek Japarov, said that the country lacked “six billion kilowatt hours of electricity for the full functioning of the economy.” It appears he was alluding to annual capacity, although this was not stated.

“Out of this deficit, we cover three billion kilowatt hours through imports. The other three billion kilowatt hours are required for the opening of new enterprises,” he was cited as saying by RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service.

Japarov estimated that it would take the country two to three years to emerge from the current energy crisis, something that he said could be achieved in part by building wind and solar plants, as well as additional small hydroelectric power generators.

This article originally appeared on Eurasianet here.