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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Wasteful Moscow in Danger of Water Shortage

At the current rate of wasteful consumption, Moscow will run out of water in about 15 years unless new sources are tapped, experts say.

If Muscovites do not stop wasting water, "We'll have to find new water sources", said Boris Vaisfeld, chief engineer at the sewer system's research institute. "That would be difficult and expensive", costing billions of rubles, he added.

Already, the city is close to consuming its total capacity from existing sources, using 7 to 8 million cubic meters a day. The system can supply a maximum of 9 million cubic meters daily, according to Vladimir Zagorsky, head of Moscow's Mosvodokanal water supply and sewer system.

Leaking faucets, so familiar to Moscow residents, wasteful consumption habits, and strong industrial demand from 3, 000 factories makes Moscow among the most water-greedy cities in Russia. and with an average monthly water charge of only five rubles per residence few Muscovites bother to conserve.

Up to one third of the city's water supply is now lost just through leaks alone, three or four times more than in most other nations, experts say.

Zagorsky said a typical Muscovite consumes 380 liters of water a day.

Western cities average 120-180 liters a day, according to Alexander Dreier, a scientist at the Scientific Technical Council of Russia's Nature Ministry.

With the city's population and industry ever expanding, existing water sources will not be able to support Moscow's extravagant needs in the future, Vaisfeld said.

Officials at Mosvodokanal say they plan a new campaign to cut consumption by aiming at the consumer's pocket. That will happen when the city raises both water prices and installs water meters in individual apartments. At present, primitive water meters, which determine usage for billing purposes, are placed at the entrance to apartment buildings, and residents pay on an equal basis.

Increased fees for water and sewage are likely later this year, Mosvodokanal officials say. Individual water meters are years away, however.

"We need to privatize apartments so they become personal property, with the owner responsible for the water bill", Zagorsky said.

Even though their fees are minuscule, Mosvodokanal still makes a profit. Last year, the city monopoly earned 14 billion rubles while spending 12 billion, according to Alexander Matrosov, head of the city engineering department which oversees Mosvodokanal.

The city budget also allocates additional money every year to Mosvodokanal to finance expansion projects, he said. Such willingness to expand rather than better utilize current resources is part of the problem, however, said Dreier.

Mosvodokanal engineers are already talking about developing new water sources 300 to 400 kilometers from Moscow on the Volga River. Such expansion could turn into an environmental and health disaster, warned Dreier.

"This will destroy the last part of the Volga River which is still preserved in its original state", he said. In addition, he said the project could lead to a future water disaster since the part of the river scheduled for development is near the Kalinin nuclear power station.

Some experts consider that it is not the quantity but the quality of Moscow's water that will pose the greatest risk to city residents in the future, however.

The quality of water in Moscow is worsening, Dreier said. "It's getting worse because of an increase in chemical fertilizers and chemical wastes used around the sources of water and then dumped into the water over the last 20 years", he added.

In theory, factories maintain their own equipment to clean waste water. Yet many experts say that government enforcement and fines are not strong enough to stop industry from dumping tons of dangerous materials into the city's water system every day.

Dreier added that global warming will worsen Moscow's water supply by spawning more nitrogen and phosphorous in the water, which laces the water basin with more bacteria.

Mosvodokanal officials say, however, that their standards of cleanliness and sewage treatment are higher than in the West.