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Kok-Aral dam.

Visit to Northern Aral in Kazakhstan.

“Everything in excess is opposed to nature” 


Excursion to Kok-Aral dam.

Kokaral dam - a dam that stops the Berga Strait between the North Aral Sea (Small Sea) and the South Aral Sea (Big Sea) near the Kokaral tract in the Aral region of the Kyzylorda region of Kazakhstan. The name of the dam comes from the former island of Kokaral, which used to be a peninsula, and now that the two seas are no longer connected, it has become just a piece of land.
This construction is one of the main points in the project "Regulation of Syr Darya and preservation of North Aral Sea." The height of Kok-Aral dam is four meters and the length is thirteen kilometers, it divides the sea into two Arals.
The project includes not only the dam, but also waterworks "Aklak" ,main constrictions  on the channels' Sagimbay "and “Domalak”, complex constructions  “Aitek” and protective dams on the Syr Darya which are straightening her bed.
Constracting of Kokaral dam and waterworks “Aklak” was built by Russian company “Zarubezhvodstroy”. The project was managed by Committee on Water Resources Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic. Technical inspection was carried out under the supervision of  British-Turkish company Mott MacDonald.
The aim was to prevent the water that poured into the northern basin from spilling into the south, thus gradually raising the water level in the northern lake. Nine months after its construction the dam overflowed and breached. In 1996, a new dam was built, 14 kilometres long and up to 30 metres wide; it was strengthened in 1998.
This great civil initiative in Kazakhstan gave people hope, as they held their breath and watched the water level rise and the first positive signs of improvement that resulted. Then, in 1999, a sand storm of hideous force tore the dam apart and part of the water gain was lost to the southern basin's lake, which is much larger.
However, hope has been revived once more. The World Bank has financed 13-kilometre-long barrier dyke at the mouth of the Syr Darya. Watching the environmental disaster worsen as the water evaporated at increasing rates from the Aral Sea's surface, and understanding that it is practically impossible to save the whole remaining body of water, the decision was finally made to attempt to save and restore the northern "Lesser Aral".
The subsequent prevention of water loss to the south has led to a significant increase in water level in the Lesser Aral. As a result the salinity is reducing, and fishing is becoming viable once again. It is hoped that the water surface will increase to about 600 square kilometres.
Meanwhile, scientists are looking into ways to reduce wind erosion of sand and drifting salt. New plantation methods are now being tested on the eastern shore of the Aral Sea. A bathing beach has been built on the large freshwater lake Kamyslybas near the Lesser Aral to improve quality of life for the local residents.
In 2003 - 2005, within the framework of the project “Regulation of the Syrdarya River Channel and the Northern Aral Sea” (PRSSAM), Kazakhstan built from the Kokaral Peninsula to the mouth of the Syr Darya Kokaralsky dam with a hydraulic shutter (which allows excess water to pass through to regulate the level of the reservoir) that fenced the Small Aral from the rest of the (Big Aral).
Due to this, the flow of the Syr Darya accumulates in the Small Aral Sea, the water level here rose to 42 meters in absolute height, salinity decreased, which makes it possible to breed some commercial fish varieties here. In 2007, the catch of fish in the Small Aral amounted to 1910 tons, of which flounder accounts for 640 tons, the rest are freshwater species (common carp, asp, perch, bream, catfish). This construction is one of the main points in the project “Regulation of the Syrdarya River Channel and Preservation of the Northern Aral Sea”.
The total cost is more than 85 million dollars. Most of the World Bank allocated a loan, the republican budget - about 22 million. The new dam began to be built in 2004 - with the involvement of Russian engineers and with the money of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
The Kokaral dam, four meters high and thirteen kilometers long, divided the sea into two Aral Sea along the Berg Strait, through which water used to flow to the South Sea. In just a year, the level of the Small Aral Sea rose by four meters. Now the water stands at 42 meters above sea level: it is 14 meters higher than in the South Aral, but 11 meters lower than forty years ago.
According to experts, the project will help to significantly improve the environmental situation in the Aral region. The dam parameters are impressive: the length is more than 13 kilometers. The width at the base is 300 and the top nine meters.
Three million cubic meters of sand and gravel are laid in the body of the dam. For critical cases, a spillway is provided - several cylindrical holes with a throughput of 46 cubic meters per second. This project includes not only the dam, but also the Aklak hydroelectric complex, the main structures on the Sagimbay and Domalak canals, the Aitek complex of structures, protective dams on the Syr Darya, and straightening its channel.
In the late eighties, the northern part of the sea completely separated from the southern. According to the remaining narrow breakthrough, the Syr Darya water flowed from Malaya to the main part of the sea. Small Aral was shallow and disappeared before our eyes.
The construction of the Kokaral dam and the Aklak hydraulic complex was carried out by the Russian Zarubezhvodstroy OJSC. The project was led by the committee on water resources of the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic, and technical supervision was carried out by the British-Turkish company Mott-MacDonald.
In the Small Aral Sea, 29 cubic kilometers of water are accumulated, in comparison - this is six times more than in the Shardara reservoir. The level of the Small Aral Sea has risen to 42 meters. Water covered the dried bottom of the sea. This allowed to restore the region's fish stocks.
The environmental situation around the northern Aral Sea has improved. On deserted and deserted lands, life reappeared. It is estimated that by 2012 fish catch in the Small Aral Sea will reach 10 thousand tons (in the 1980s, about 60 thousand tons were caught in the entire Aral Sea).
A culvert with a throughput of 600 cubic meters per second was built on the dam, designed to protect it from destruction by dumping excess water into the South Aral. The name of the dam comes from the former island of Kokaral, which later was a peninsula, and now that the two Seas are no longer connected, just part of the land.
The cost of the first phase of the PRRSAM project amounted to $ 85.79 million ($ 65.5 million falls on a loan from the World Bank, the remaining funds are allocated from the republican budget of Kazakhstan). It is assumed that water will cover an area of ​​870 square km, and this will restore the flora and fauna of the Aral Sea region.
In Aralsk, the fish processing plant “Flounder Balyk” (productivity 300 tons per year), located on the site of the former bakery, now operates. In 2008, it is planned to open two fish processing plants in the Aral region: Atameken Holding (design capacity of 8,000 tons per year) in Aralsk and Kambash Balyk (250 tons per year) in Kamyshlybash.
In 2008, the total area of ​​lakes is more than 50 thousand hectares (it is supposed to increase to 80 thousand hectares), the number of lakes in oblast increased from 130 to 213. As part of the implementation of the second phase of the PRRSAM project in 2010 - 2015, it is planned to build a dam with a waterworks in the northern part of the Small Aral Sea, separate the Saryshyganak Bay and fill it with water through a specially dug channel from the mouth of the Syr Darya, bringing the water level in it up to 46 meters.
It is planned to build a shipping channel from the bay to the port of Aralsk (the width of the channel along the bottom will be 100 m, length 23 km). To provide transport links between the Aral Sea and a complex of facilities in the Sary-Shyganak Bay, the project provides for the construction of a category V highway with a length of about 50 km and a width of 8 m parallel to the former coastal line of the Aral Sea. A project is being prepared for the second phase of the revival of the northern Aral Sea.
At the rate of $ 250 - 300 million, it is planned to reconstruct the system of reservoirs along the Syr Darya in Kazakhstan, to clear the riverbed and build another more powerful dam with a gateway at the entrance to the Sary-Shaganak Bay, on the bank of which Aralsk stands.
The water of the Syr Darya should fill the bay through a 50-meter canal - it will be torn from the delta lake Kmyshlybash to the port of Aralsk.

Mass media of Kazakhstan.

Alexander Petrov.