On April 4-5, the ASPIRED Project convened the second meeting of the Interagency Task Force, whose job is to provide recommendations to the Government of Armenia on the most rational fees for the use of underground water resource by fisheries in the Ararat Valley.
The roadmap of activities was elaborated following the first meeting of the Task Force in January 2016. Over the recent period, the team conducted the survey of the fish farms, with the use of electronic questionnaires and visited selected fisheries to interview the owners. The purpose of the survey was to understand the current status and issues of the sector and its future trends in the light of recent market developments. The results of the survey and facts, issues and observations made during the site visits as well as preliminary economic analysis of the fish farming sector was presented and discussed with the participants.
Another important topic of the meeting was the classification of the fish farms. While the ASPIRED team analyzed the best practice in the classification of the fish farms, the Task Force members presented their own recommendations as to which criteria should be used for classifying between large, medium and small-sized fisheries. This is particularly important if the diversified underground water use fee is proposed for adoption.
There was a heated debate among participants on the most acute financial and economic problems of the fish-breeding sector and an issue of finding a reasonable balance between the resource conservation priorities, rational use of underground water and the sector development needs.
During a public event on February 10, USAID announced the launch of the Advanced Science and Partnerships for Integrated Resource Development Project (ASPIRED) – a three-year initiative designed to curb the rate of groundwater abstraction in the Ararat Valley to sustainable levels. USAID Armenia Mission Director Karen Hilliard, Deputy Minister of Nature Protection Simon Papyan, representatives of the central government, regional authorities of Armavir and Ararat provinces, and local and international organizations attended the event.
USAID’s recent assessment of the status of groundwater resources in the Ararat Valley – the country’s key agricultural hub – has indicated an alarming situation. The decreasing level of the groundwater supply and the uncontrolled use of artesian water by fish farms has left some 30 communities in the Ararat and Armavir marzes without reliable access to drinking or irrigation water.
In addition, these water shortages pose a real threat to the country’s agricultural sector, the socio-economic and environmental well-being of these regions, as well as the safety and security of Armenia’s sole nuclear power plant, Metsamor, which relies on these water resources for its cooling system. Despite recent measures by the Armenian government to regulate the use of artesian water in the valley, the situation remains serious and is among the Armenian Government’s top priorities.
USAID’s new ASPIRED project will assist the Government of Armenia in developing consistent policy and technical solutions for a more regulated use of these vital groundwater resources. The project will focus on closing data gaps, improving technical capacities and tools for informed decision-making, increasing access to innovative water conservation and energy efficiency technologies, and promoting regulatory and enforcement mechanisms.
ASPIRED will also conduct an inventory of the wells and springs in the Ararat Artesian Basin, create a publicly accessible integrated data system for the valley, install an automated control system for monitoring groundwater abstraction in ten selected fisheries, and pilot innovative technologies for efficient groundwater and energy use. Policy recommendations will be provided to the Armenian government to optimize fees for underground water use by fisheries and introduce stricter water permit practices and oversight.