Turkey's Black Sea Dams Anger Georgia

By Giorgy Kupatadze

ADILA, Georgia, May 6, 2005 (ENS) - From the windows of Suliko Kaitanba's two-story house in the Ajarian village of Adila, the Black Sea can be seen splashing on the shore just a meter or so away. But the 55 year old is not admiring the view - just two months ago, the tangerine trees he relied on for his income were growing on that same spot.

"There were storms in early March, and waves washed out around eight meters of the coast,” he said.

“I grew tangerine trees on this plot and gathered 17 tons last harvest. Who will compensate me for that?”

Ajaria, a semi-autonomous region of Georgia, shares a border with Turkey. The Chorokhi River - known as Coruh in Turkey - passes through both countries on its way to the Black Sea.

river

Rafting on the Coruh River as it passes through Turkey on its way to the Black Sea (Photo courtesy Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism)
Environmentalists are now expressing fears that the Black Sea coastline is suffering accelerated erosion as a result of a series of dams being built by the Turks on the river, and warn that much more land could be lost if steps are not taken to address the problem.

The Black Sea’s beaches are categorized as “accumulative alluvial,” which means that the coastline is continually rebuilt and reinforced by the alluvial deposits of the many rivers that feed into it.

Three dams - Muratli, Maradidi and Borchkha - have been built on the Chorokhi to date, and a further seven are planned for the river and four more for its tributaries. The planned Deriner dam, which will be filled up with water in 2007, will be the largest in Turkey at a height of 253 meters.

But Georgian analysts fear that the effects of just one dam are sufficient to pose a major threat to the coastline, as damming prevents sand, stones and debris from being deposited at a river mouth and counteracting the erosive actions of the sea.

Sasha Khorava, head of the Ajarian department of the Georgia’s Coastal Protection Agency, said, “Since the '50s, the sea has taken three or four meters of land, but nearly eight meters have been washed away in 2005 already, and we are not even in the middle of the year."

The forecast by Giorgi Gachachiladze, leader of the Georgian Green Party, is even more pessimistic.

"After the dams are built, no alluvial material will be delivered at all and the sea will wash away 200 to 250 meters of land annually," he said.

The erosion of the Ajarian coastline started at the beginning of the 20th century, mostly as a result of human activity. Adila’s elderly residents can remember when a railway line ran between the village and the sea, and the younger residents are now concerned that their properties could be next to fall under the waves.

Rostom Dolidze, a 40 year old resident whose house lies just half a meter from the shore, said, "These houses were in fact the third row of buildings on the shore. The first two have been washed away, but it took the sea several decades to do this. However, our houses will share their fate much sooner."

He added that the foundations of his father’s house have already been washed away.

It is estimated that 12 houses in Adila may well be under water by next year - including that belonging to Kaitanba.

"We have received one time compensation of US$33 per person and they are also offering to allocate around 5,000 dollars to build a new house,” Kaitanba said.

“However, the value of my property is estimated at 25,000 dollars."

dam site

Construction has begun at the site of the Deriner dam on the Chorokhi, or Coruh, River. The white line indicates height at which the river will crest when the dam is completed. (Photo courtesy Familie Mutzenberg)
His neighbor Enver Dolidze said that he was not interested in receiving compensation. Instead, he called on the government to act. "Let them do something to protect the coast and enable us to live normally," he said indignantly.

The Tbilisi authorities say they are taking the situation very seriously. Georgia’s deputy minister for environmental protection and natural resources, Sopiko Akhobadze, has confirmed that the issue will be discussed at a meeting of the Georgian National Security Council in May.

The deputy minister added that the consequences of the construction of the dams must be estimated as soon as possible, before dialogue can be entered into with Turkey.

The damming of the river has already sparked a series of agreements between the neighboring countries.

An intergovernmental agreement was drawn up in 1999, when Turkey installed two scientific stations to supervise the river’s currents, and Georgia undertook to help ensure they would operate smoothly.

However, Georgia failed to meet its commitments. The stations were damaged and are now derelict. The Turkish government then dispatched working groups to the spot twice a year, and passed their findings on to Tbilisi.

Turkey regards the construction of the dams as a positive step, and is offering to monitor the dams for a decade after they are built in order to assess any damage to the Black Sea coast.

Ertan Tezgor, Turkey’s ambassador to Georgia, noted that bilateral cooperation over the river and its dams dates back to 1998.

“Since then, regular controls have been conducted on the river by experts from both countries and these studies will continue in the future,” he said in written comments to this reporter.

“To date, expert analysis has not revealed any indication of the dam’s environmental impact as claimed by certain circles," he wrote.

Black Sea

Beaches rimming the Black Sea are eroding as dams hold back the sediment that would renew them. (Photo credit unknown)
“We believe that, should any setbacks arise due to the [dams] on the river, the experts can propose their suggestions to the political authorities for a just solution of the problems,” wrote Tezgor.

But the Georgian Environment Ministry is expressing doubts. "We insist that all proposals be considered with participation of a neutral third party. This may be a Dutch commission for environmental impact assessment,” said Akhobadze.

The Environment Ministry intends to put this issue on the agenda of the working groups that are to meet in May.

But some believe that Tbilisi will not be able to bring much influence to bear on the issue.

One source at the Environment Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the situation is complicated by Georgia’s fears of damaging relations with its strategically important neighbor.

He also pointed out that Georgia’s then president Eduard Shevardnadze had taken part in the 1998 ceremonies for the opening of the Deriner dam, which is now allegedly posing a threat to the region. He did so despite protests by ecological and human rights activists at the time.

Akhobadze said the environment ministry is looking at a number of possible rescue scenarios, including strengthening the coastline with artificial mounds. These will be debated at the May meeting.

Meanwhile, environmentalists warn that Ajaria’s capital Batumi and its airfield are also at risk of flooding. And residents of Adlia are living in constant fear of the next storm, which might sweep away more land - and houses.

"What will it take before someone deals with our problems?" asked villager Dolidze.

"If the Georgian authorities do not help us, we will tear up Georgian passports and seek shelter in Turkey."

{Published in cooperation with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Giorgy Kupatadze is a reporter for Black Sea Press news agency in Tbilisi, Georgia.}