Been and Gone

 When will the floods stop in Novosibirsk?  08/24/2012, 12:25
Been and Gone
Photography by Pyotr Lokhov, Irina Lomakovskaya & Yevgeniy Smirnov

In several districts of Novosibirsk three floods occurred in as many summer months. Downpours washed away the embankment of a railway bridge, destroyed roads, caused accidents, and flooded Energetikov Square, car parks and shops with basements. Local authorities, after casting their thrifty eyes over the open spaces of the city, declared that the sewerage system is «satisfactory», while referring to «hyper-magnetic radiation». Sib.fm’s correspondent tries to figure out how it all started and what will happen next.

The first big flood of the season in Novosibirsk happened on 15th June — the day of record-breaking 10-point traffic jams (the mapping service of search engine Yandex records traffic levels in Russian cities on a scale of 1 to 10). Cars parked in a courtyard on Kropotkin Street filled with water up to their radiators and the ring road in Rodniki neighbourhood was flooded. By the end of the day, the embankment of the railway bridge which crosses Krasny Avenue near «Gagarinskaya» metro station had been washed away.

After a couple of days, a heat wave struck Siberia and the residents of the Novosibirsk, Tomsk and Kemerovo Regions got to forget about any type of precipitation for six weeks. Meanwhile, the damage caused by the June flood was quickly repaired and city residents were more occupied by thick smog on the streets and the act of self-immolation in the regional office of «United Russia» (the ruling political party, led by Vladimir Putin).

Heavy rain with wind and thunder struck Novosibirsk again on the night of 2nd August. The Ministry of Emergency Situations had issued a warning one day earlier, and rescue workers pointed out the possibility of storm drains overflowing, irregularities in the work of road construction services and traffic jams. All of which happened: downpours caused a flood on Rubinovaya Street in the Soviet District, car engines cut out in a huge pool on Plyuschikhinsky residential area and the road surface collapsed near a metro station, stopping traffic.

900 metres is the length of a new storm drain on Kamenskaya Street in Novosibirsk

The very next day, mayor Vladimir Gorodetsky announced that floods causing such devastating effects are unacceptable, and ordered the city to conduct an official inspection.

Exactly a week later, on 9th August, 1.5-metre (5ft) deep flood waters on Energetikov Square blocked off traffic on Dimitrovsky Bridge.

Commenting on the city’s third major flood in the space of one and a half months, First Deputy Mayor Andrei Ksenzov complained that forecasters didn’t predict «such heavy rainfall.»

The situation, according to the official, was aggravated by «hyper-magnetic radiation».

«I consider this an anomalous occurrence for Novosibirsk. I can’t remember seeing such an amount of rainfall in that sort of short time period — pretty much 20 minutes,» he added.

City Hall reports confirm that in some parts of the city during the torrential rains, from 20 to 60% of monthly average rainfall fell within 24 hours. The storm drains weren’t designed to cope with such a torrent of water.

On the other hand, Sib.fm’s correspondent found out that experts from the Novosibirsk Weather Centre encountered the term «hyper-magnetic radiation» for the first time. In particular, the Ionospheric-Magnetic Forecasting Department maintain that they didn’t provide Ksenzov with any information on the ample precipitation and cannot comment on his assessment of the event.

«I don’t know what he was on about. Seriously. I mean, if it’s ’hyper’ as in ’enormous’, then where did this radiation even come from? Has the sun fallen down? Is it the influence of Mars?» emotionally asks Viktor Chirkov, head of the Environmental Pollution Monitoring Centre. «Experience tells us that the sewerage system probably just got blocked up with rubbish.»

One way or another, the First Deputy Mayor acknowledged that in addition to Energetikov Square, about 5-7 localities were waterlogged by the downpour and proposed the construction of additional storm drains. In general, added Ksenzov, the city’s sewer system is in «satisfactory condition».

45 billion rubles ($1.5bn) will be needed to implement Novosibirsk’s planned new sewerage system

«In Novosibirsk, as in all large Russian cities, the drainage of rain water and household sewage are handled by separate independent systems. Compared with domestic systems, the workload on storm drainage varies more significantly because of its main purpose — collection and disposal of rainwater and water from melted snow,» explains Mikhail Krokhmal, CEO of «Sibgiprokommunvodokanal» (Siberian State Institute of Design and Engineering Surveys for Water Supply and Sewerage Systems plc.).

According to him, it is indeed necessary to build new storm drains, but there’s no need to rush. Laying new pipes won’t have an effect in all of the districts where floods occurred. Sometimes water doesn’t «run off» simply because of the area’s characteristics.

To create an optimal and efficient system of collection, drainage, treatment and discharge of rainwater, the city urgently needs a new storm drainage scheme that takes into account newly developed areas and the city’s growth prospects until 2030.

«It’s difficult to talk about the current state of the city’s sewers because no one is monitoring the system as a whole. In one place something is being repaired, in another something new is being built. Often, designers don’t make any provisions for drainage,» continues Krokhmal.

According to experts, it could take at least a year to conduct a comprehensive technical survey of the storm drainage system.

In July, Novosibirsk’s Architecture and Town Planning Board approved the drainage scheme developed by «Sibgiprokommunvodokanalom» for the city until 2030. Krokhmal is sure that this storm drainage system can be the first step in solving the problem.

«It’s necessary to inspect the existing facilities and make an inventory» agrees Dmitriy Karelin, Head of the Urban Planning and Development Department at Novosibirsk State Architectural University.

He considers ill-timed cleaning of the sewer system to be the main cause of «unexpected» floods. Another reason is the installation of water intake grilles which are not up to standard.

Karelin gives an example: «That’s what happened on Energetikov Square. The capacity of the sewer was sufficient to avoid a flood but the capabilities of the intake grilles weren’t. This means that calculations were carried out based on different ’maximums’ that weren’t consistent.»

Despite the fact that there is no city sewerage development scheme, the department head refers to data from his students’ scientific papers. They show that the Kirov and Lenin Districts of Novosibirsk have the lowest level of storm drain coverage. There are also some problems in the October District, including on Kirov Street.

In the aftermath of the three floods, Novosibirsk City Hall did not receive a single claim from affected motorists

Karelin thinks that the city authorities should also abandon the «free-flow» drainage system, where rainfall runs into inlets along the curbstones at the side of the road. Usually after heavy rain, huge pools appear at intersections and the sewers simply can’t cope.

Sib.fm’s correspondent was informed by representatives of the Novosibirsk City Hall Transport and Infrastructure Department that the authorities intend to restore storm drain networks which have been abandoned by industrial companies and other establishments, and make them public property. The Mayor’s Office has identified over 100 such facilities, with a total length of more than 50km. With these reserves of «old» sewers, new ones might not even be needed.

«The situation in the city isn’t critical,» assures Krokhmal. «Even though the water level went up in some places and traffic was stopped in others, nothing was washed away by the floods. No lakes have formed in the city.»

 This publication has been translated by experts from "Monoton" translation agency.
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