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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ministry Issues Spring Flood Warning

Spring has arrived and Russia is at risk of another seasonal disaster: floods.

The problem appears to be so serious that it managed to grab the attention of Sergei Kiriyenko at his first government session after moving into the prime minister's chair this week.

The alarm bells were rung by the Environment Ministry, which said it has no where near the money it needs to manage the country's dams and reservoirs properly.

This year's spring thaw is not expected to produce any more water than usual, but the poor state of the country's water systems could result in worse flooding than in previous years, Vladimir Makarentsev, the deputy environment minister, said Friday.

"The system is run catastrophically badly," Makarentsev said.

The ministry needs $70 million a year to manage Russia's extensive system of dams, canals and reservoirs. "But we are getting less than one-tenth of this amount from the budget," he said.

The main problem, the deputy minister said, is not with the large dams that barricade major rivers such as the Volga in European Russia or the Angara and Yenisei in Siberia, but with smaller rivers.

"The big dams are actually well managed. As part of the electricity-producing industry, they all belong to Unified Energy Systems. It's a rich company that can afford maintenance work," Makarentsev said.

Smaller rivers and dams are a different story. To protect themselves from potential water shortages, many industrial and agricultural enterprises around the country have built their own dams and reservoirs along local waterways, he said.

But as a result of the economic problems that have hit Russia in recent years, few of the enterprises can afford to maintain those dams, Makarentsev said. "Some of those dams now do not have owners at all," he said.

The consequences, Makarentsev said, can be dire. If there is a lot of snow, or if temperatures rise quickly, causing a rapid thaw, there is a danger that dams can break and send a torrent of water racing down river, he said.

Every year, Russia suffers damage of about 3 billion new rubles ($500 milli on) from flooding, the deputy environment minister said. The damage could be reduced, Makarentsev said, if his ministry were given sufficient funding. He complained that all money designated for fighting flooding goes to the Emergency Situations Ministry.

Regions most at risk this year include northern European Russia, Kamchatka in the Far East and area along the Ural River and the upper parts of the Ob and Irtysh rivers in Western Siberia.

The Environment Ministry's plea for help was heard at Thursday's government session, the first chaired by Kiriyenko after President Boris Yeltsin named him acting prime minister Monday.

The government responded by ordering the relevant ministries and agencies to take steps to minimize the damage caused by spring flooding and to protect the population and important industrial sites. An unspecified amount of extra funding was promised from the government's special reserve fund, Itar-Tass reported Friday.