From Water Power and Dam Construction

UK scientists have conducted an unprecedented rapid assessment of the environmental aftermath of the breach of the Kakhovka Dam, aiming to aid in the recovery of a critical biodiversity hotspot.

Following the breach of the dam located in southern Ukraine, amid a warzone, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) and HR Wallingford collaborated to undertake the first independent evaluation of the impacts within weeks of the incident occurring in June. Leveraging cutting-edge technologies, the assessment estimated that approximately half a million hectares of protected freshwater and terrestrial habitats faced various hazards, including exposure to pollutants from over a thousand sites and sediment erosion. This ecological crisis was exacerbated by widespread flooding downstream and the near-complete depletion of the upstream Kakhovka Reservoir.

Traditionally, environmental assessments of this magnitude have only occurred post-conflict when it’s deemed safe for scientists to conduct thorough field studies. However, this approach has constrained targeted biodiversity restoration within post-conflict recovery plans. The rapid assessment of the Kakhovka Dam breach sets a precedent for early intervention in future conflict situations, allowing for more effective restoration efforts.

The report, commissioned by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), utilized hydrological modelling, digital mapping, satellite imagery, and ecological data to identify affected habitats and species promptly.

The reports key findings were:

  • Downstream flooding encompassed approximately 83,000 hectares, equivalent to the size of Kyiv, with an initial discharge rate of 30,000m³ per second, significantly surpassing the daily average.
  • The near-complete drainage of the Kakhovka Reservoir resulted in the displacement of thousands of fish, including an estimated 28,000 crucian carp, valued at approximately US $108 million.
  • Over 1000 potential pollution sources, ranging from wastewater treatment facilities to industrial sites, further exacerbated environmental degradation.
  • Sediment erosion post-flooding raised concerns about the release of historic pollutants stored within the sediment, posing additional risks to the ecosystem.
  • Furthermore, the breach impacted over half a million hectares of habitats of national or international significance, including the Black Sea Biosphere Reserve. Notably, 28 out of the 567 affected species are globally threatened or worse, including the Great Bustard and the slender-billed curlew, which is teetering on the brink of extinction.

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