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The Amur River proposed amendments to the Water Code of the Russian Federation

07 november 2013
A catastrophic flood in the Amur River has inspired legislators to adopt amendments to the Water Code of the Russian Federation.

The Federal law came into force including a number of WWF Russia proposals, expressed in a position paper on the 2013 floods.

On November 1, the Federal law (№ 282-FZ) on the zones of flooding and saturation came into effect, amending the Water Code and the Urban Planning Code, the Code of Administrative Offences and other certain legislative acts.

«The amendments to the Water Code are important steps to address the issues of social and management adaptation climate change. It is important that the amendments are not only on paper, but lead to concrete action, - says Yury Darman, PhD, director of WWF Russia Amur branch. - Back in early 2000s, WWF Russia Amur branch offered its recommendations on sustainable use of the Amur River floodplain and its tributaries. In practice, together with the Federal Agency of Water Resource Management of Evreiskaya Province and in some parts of Amurskaya Province project design work has been carried out on zoning and regulation of management activities in the Amur River floodplain. It was possible to prepare regulations that regulate economic and residential use of the floodplain. But all this turned out to be unnecessary, as the Water Code, adopted in 2006, defined the width of the riparian buffer zone with limited economic activities of only 200 meters, even for such a big river as the Amur River».

Lack of government regulation and human overconfidence led to the fact that extensive construction took place in zones of potential flooding. And only the disastrous flood in the Amur River, which severely affected the local people and the economy of the Far Eastern region, inspired the amendments to the Water and the Urban Planning Code which can help prevent large-scale disasters in the future.

The new law prohibits development of new settlements and permanent construction projects within the boundaries of flooding and saturation zones without special preventive measures. According to the law, municipalities are required to delineate the flooding and saturation zones in their official documents and maps. Federal executive bodies will determine the boundaries of flood zones with the participation of local authorities.

The development, construction, reconstruction, commissioning and operation of industrial and other facilities is allowed within the riparian buffer zones. However, it is required that these facilities demonstrate the presence of specialized equipment for the protection of water bodies from pollution, siltation and water depletion. Within these areas it is prohibited to construct gas stations, warehouses of combustible materials, and the use of pesticides and agrochemicals is forbidden. Within the riparian buffer zones discharge of sewage, exploration and extraction of commonly available mineral resources is prohibited as well.

Within the zones of flooding and saturation it is prohibited to use waste water for agricultural purposes, the placement of cemeteries, cattle burial grounds, storage of radioactive waste, etc.

The Water Code of the Russian Federation is amended by the Article 67.1 which is dedicated to the prevention of adverse effects from flooding and mitigation of its consequences. Measures to prevent these adverse effects are imposed on the owner of the water body. The enacted law includes a number of proposals, which were outlined in the WWF’s position paper on the 2013floods.

A Plan for complex use and protection of water bodies of the Amur River Basin should become the mechanism for implementing the new amendments for the Amur River Basin. The procedure of public discussion of the Plan started on November 1, during which all interested parties will be able to evaluate the document and express their opinion.

«Unfortunately, the Plan prepared by the Russian Research Institute for Integrated Water Management and Protection (RosNIIVH) does not contain any materials on the basis of which the use of floodplains can be regulated, - says Peter Osipov, WWF Russia coordinator of Amur River projects. - No assessment is made of flood capacity of the floodplain, no measures proposed to maintain and increase the capacity for floodwater distribution in wet years. The Plan offers no changes to regulations of use of water resources of Bureyskiy and Zeyskiy reservoirs. Thus, according to the current rules, reservoirs do not perform flood preventing functions, only energy-producing functions, aimed at obtaining the maximum amount of electric power. The Plan has been prepared only for the Russian part without taking into account the influence of the Chinese part of the basin. The effect of the Sungary River (Songhua River), one of the largest tributaries of the Amur River, is not estimated, which leads to the unpredictable development of floods. This Plan does not offer any method to solve the problem of transboundary basin management and prevent future catastrophic floods. It should be brought in line with the newly adopted amendments to the Water Code and other legislative acts».

The Plan should include activities aimed at implementation of the newly adopted legislative acts. If it is adapted to do so, it will allow the avoidance of catastrophic damage from flooding in the future.

The Ussury River, the main tributary of the Amur River, during the flood of 2013
© WWF Russia
Khabarovsk city during the flood of 2013
© WWF Russia