Due to the scarcity of sewage treatment plants in Armenia, most of the sewage is not treated. As a result, domestic sewage pours into nearby creeks and surface water resources, polluting them.
As of 2021, according to the Water Committee of the Ministry of Territorial Management and Infrastructure, only around 8% of the total volume of municipal wastewater is mechanically cleaned, and only approximately 0.13% of the total volume of wastewater has undergone biological treatment.
“Given that the construction of wastewater treatment facilities and sewer collectors requires large-scale financial resources and time, it is feasible only if a suitable investment plan is developed and the required financial resources are available,” says Vache Terteryan, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources.
Missing or Incomplete
According to the Water Committee, new wastewater treatment plants have been built and put into operation in recent years in the cities of Gavar, Martuni, Vardenis, Jermuk and Dilijan. As a result, the total daily treated wastewater volume is approximately 66,531 cubic meters. However, these plants only perform mechanical cleaning. If necessary and if the required financial resources are available, these wastewater treatment plants can eventually implement corresponding structures for biological and sludge treatment.
The regions of Ararat, Aragatsotn and Kotayk lack wastewater treatment plants. Additionally, the existing sewage treatment plant in Gyumri in Armenia’s Shirak region, is also non-operational, resulting in sewage discharge into rivers.
In Gegharkunik region, there are three local mechanical cleaning stations along the coastal settlements of Lake Sevan.
Parakar, Vagharshapat, and Metsamor communities of the Armavir region have mechanical wastewater treatment plants. However the facility in Metsamor is broken and in need of restoration.
The city of Jermuk in Vayots Dzor region has a mechanical sewage treatment plant, whereas Yeghegnadzor and Vayk do not.
There are mechanical cleaning stations in the cities of Kapan, Goris, Meghri and Agarak in Syunik region; however, all of them are non-operational.
Tavush region has only one mechanical wastewater treatment plant, which serves the city of Dilijan.
In Lori region, only the stations in the settlements of Dzoraget, Lori Berd and Sverdlov are in normal condition. A wastewater treatment facility is planned to be constructed in Fioletovo as part of the 2023 subvention program.
According to the Water Committee, the Aeration Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) in the city of Yerevan performs partial mechanical cleaning of wastewater. The volume of wastewater discharged in the capital in 2020, 2021, and 2022 amounts to 49.3, 62.2, and 64.5 million cubic meters, respectively.
Veolia Water CJSC is the primary company responsible for operating and maintaining drainage systems. However, in communities that this company does not service, the responsibility falls upon the relevant local self-government bodies.
Veolia Water also manages the Aeration WWTP. According to Marianna Shahinyan, the director of Veolia Water, the Aeration plant was constructed between 1963 and 1978. Since then, no significant investment has been made, and as a result, the plant is in dire condition. Only a portion of the plant’s mechanical cleaning system is currently operational.
“According to the lease contract, Veolia Water CJSC is obligated to operate and maintain the Aeration plant to the extent that the technical condition of the station allows it,” says Shahinyan. She adds that under the terms of the contract, the lessor –– the government, represented by the Water Committee –– is responsible for major repairs and capital investments for the renovation. In 2008, the government announced plans to construct a WWTP on a portion of the existing treatment plant for this purpose. However, the new construction of the plant has not been completed yet.
Shahinyan assures that the company has fulfilled its obligations, spending 71 million AMD in 2020 (including roughly 43 million AMD in Yerevan), 237 million AMD in 2021 (including roughly 176 million AMD in Yerevan), and 282 million AMD in 2022 (the data for Yerevan has not yet been calculated) for the reconstruction of sewer systems in Veolia Water’s service area.
Due to the lack of sewage treatment plants, the majority of domestic and industrial waste water flows into surface waters and seeps into groundwater resources.
A study conducted by the German Bank for Reconstruction and Development between October 2018 and August 2019 showed that the poor water quality in the lower zones of the Akhuryan River in Shirak region is due to the discharge of domestic wastewater from nearby communities.
The Akhuryan River, located in Shirak region, was sampled from two locations beneath Gyumri. The study found that the ecological status of the water was insufficient, with large concentrations of sewage-related indicators, such as Asellus aquaticus, Chironomus thummi, and Tubificidae, observed on site. The black color of the stones and silt in the riverbed indicated a deficiency in oxygen.
The findings of the research conducted within the framework of the “European Union Water Initiative Plus for the Eastern Partnership” (EUWI+) project have identified sewage discharge as the main source of pollution in the Hrazdan River basin management area. As per the water cadastre and expert assessment of the Water Resources Management Agency of the Ministry of Environment, as of January 2018, 90-95% of industrial and domestic wastewater has not been collected and treated, leading to a negative impact on the quality of water resources of the Hrazdan and Kasakh rivers. The water quality of Marmarik River is also affected by sewage.
Sewage-filled rivers eventually empty into Lake Sevan, which is an essential water source for Armenia. In May 2023, an agreement was signed by the Ministry of the Environment, the Water Committee, and Veolia Water CJSC on the modernization of the wastewater treatment plant in Gavar. This agreement was made within the framework of the jointly funded “Environmental Protection of Lake Sevan” program, by the European Union and the Government of the German Federation. It is noted that the primary solution for the problem of Lake Sevan’s algal blooming is the installation and operation of biological wastewater treatment plants, which will enable sewage and wastewater cleaning, resulting in the flow of clean river water into the lake.
However, until the treatment plant is modernized, Sevan will continue to be polluted with sewage.
Bardukh Gabrielyan, director of the Zoology and Hydroecology Center of the National Academy of Sciences, explains that organic compounds and biogenic elements, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, are discharged into the lake due to the treatment plants located in the Sevan basin being merely mechanically cleaned.
“Phosphorus is the main factor that contributes to lake blooms, including the formation of toxic blue-green algae. The biogenic elements present in the wastewater lead to increased bloom in the lake. Therefore, it is necessary to not only carry out mechanical cleaning, but also biological cleaning, which involves cleaning chemicals dissolved in water,” says Gabrielyan.
The expert is confident that the construction of biological treatment plants on rivers will significantly decrease Lake Sevan’s algal bloom, as well as the toxic algae that have a negative effect on the flora and fauna of the lake.
“During the period of heavy algal blooming, aquatic animals in those areas completely disappear,” Gabrielyan explains. “Only the fish are mobile and avoid such places, but the harmful components of the algae impair the food base and breeding grounds of the fish.”
When organic materials are poured directly from the sewer into a lake, they begin to decompose and consume oxygen. This limits the amount of oxygen available in the given river or lake, resulting in negative consequences, including a detrimental impact on biodiversity.
“If we want good water quality, biodiversity, and a healthy ecosystem, we must keep those organic, biogenic elements to a minimum,” Gabrielyan says.
Apart from the problem of sewage treatment facilities, many communities in Armenia, particularly in rural areas, lack drainage systems and sewers. In such places, sewage is collected in wells constructed for this specific purpose.
In response to an inquiry by EVN Report, the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure discussed the issue with the Water Committee and the governors’ staff. As a result, a summary was made of the communities without sewers.
Only 28 out of 97 settlements in Ararat region have a sewerage system.
Out of 98 settlements of Armavir region, only 16 have a sewerage system; four have partial sewerage.
Out of 130 settlements in Lori region, only 20 have a sewerage system, one of which is non-operational and 10 have a partial system.
Only 32 out of 67 settlements in Kotayk region have a sewerage system.
Out of 55 settlements of Vayots Dzor region, only the urban communities of Yeghegnadzor, Vayk and Jermuk have a sewerage system.
Out of 138 settlements in Syunik region, only 22 have a sewerage system.
Out of 62 settlements in Tavush region, only nine have a sewerage system (Ijevan, Dilijan, Berd, Noyemberyan, Ayrum, Azatamut, Aygepar, Koghb and Haghtanak); 13 settlements have partial water drainage.
Out of 138 settlements in Shirak region, about 30 have a sewerage system; one has a partial sewerage system. However, it should be noted that no information was provided for Gyumri, Armenia’s second-largest city.
Out of 98 settlements in Gegharkunik region, eight have a sewerage system (the urban communities of Gavar, Martuni, Sevan, Vardenis and Chambarak, and the rural communities of Vardenik, Tsovasar and Vahan).
Out of 121 settlements in Aragatsotn region, four have a sewerage system; seven have a partial sewerage system. No information was provided for the city of Aparan.
However, the mere presence of sewers in a community does not guarantee that they are in good working order. In fact, the majority of regions, including Kotayk, Vayots Dzor, and Syunik, have worn-out sewer lines that require repair or replacement.
According to the Water Committee of the Ministry of Territorial Management and Infrastructure, the required capital works program allocated approximately 400 million AMD for upgrading the drainage systems in the settlements served by this company. This work was completed in 2020, 2021, and 2022.
Marianna Shahinyan of Veolia Water Company, stated that most of the 400 settlements served by the company have drainage systems. However, small rural communities typically lack drainage systems, and the company only charges for water supply services in those areas. Additionally, there are subscribers without a sewerage system in every administrative district of Yerevan. Currently, waste water produced by 96.7% of the city’s residents is collected and treated.
According to Shahinyan, the sewer pipes in the administrative districts of Yerevan are generally in a technically satisfactory condition. The operating company replaces some parts of the drainage system, which frequently break down, as part of the mandatory capital works program carried out every year.
According to Veolia Water, emergency repair of sewer lines and unclogging of existing blockages are carried out in Yerevan on an as-needed basis. In 2022, small-scale sophisticated equipment was purchased, making it possible to begin carrying out preventive maintenance on sewer lines to avoid blockages.
“In particular, prophylactic cleaning work was completed on sewer lines totaling 3,460 meters pertaining to 75 addresses with frequent blockages. As a result, calls regarding blockages in those addresses have significantly decreased,” says Shahinyan.
She emphasizes that there were no instances of sewage interfering with drinking water during the implementation years of the lease (2017–2023). The company promptly completes preventive services, such as sewer inspection, detection of damaged sections, and their reconstruction or replacement. In 2022, a total of 5,954 meters of sewer lines were rebuilt and refurbished, 247 manholes were cleaned, with 67 of them being repaired.
“There are sections in the sewage system that are worn out and in need of reconstruction and replacement. These sections are classified according to priority, planned and implemented in the annual construction work plans,” Shahinyan explains. “The entire service area of the company will be gradually included within the framework of financial possibilities.”
Schools Without Sewers
According to data by the Statistical Committee, 135 out of 1,354 public schools in Armenia, where more than 12,500 pupils attend classes and roughly 1,580 teachers are employed, lacked a sewerage system in the 2021-2022 academic year.
A publication by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), reveals that in the 2021-2022 academic year, almost 4,400 students (1%) and almost 630 teachers (1.6%) in 70 schools (5%) do not have access to water (both drinking/potable or for handwashing). Additionally, almost 3,600 school students (0.9%) and 517 teachers (1.3%) in more than 60 schools have access to neither sanitation nor water.
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