For many years in Ukraine there has been a “conspiracy” between some farmers who buy water for half-price and managers of irrigation systems who write it off as a loss.

Resumption of irrigation in Ukraine may begin next year. The relevant committee of the Verkhovna Rada approved and recommended to the parliament to adopt in the second reading and the draft bill №5202-d "On Water Users’ Organizations and hydrotechnical reclamation of lands".

Accordingly, it may be finally adopted in the coming plenary weeks.

The document provides for the creation of Water Users’ Organizations (WUOs), which will unite farmers and receive objects of reclamation of low-level systems, which are in state or municipal ownership or are ownerless.

That means that the reclamation facilities, that supply water to the fields (pumping stations, pipelines, hydrants) will be on the balance of farmers whose work directly depends on their proper operation.

It would seem that the Verkhovna Rada could easily consider this draft bill. After all, it is useful not only for the state, farmers and society, but also is supported by international organizations such as the USAID Program on Agrarian and Rural Development - AGRO, the World Bank.

However, it did not happen as it was expected. It was considered three times in the first reading, although it received 312 votes in the end.

There were also surprises during its consideration by the Agrarian Committee before the second reading. The day before, People’s Deputies received a letter of appeal from 32 agricultural enterprises which opposed the draft bill.

And it is quite strange, because according to the draft bill, they must gain control over the operation of irrigation systems from which they receive water.

Why did it happen and why their colleagues from Mykolaiv region, as soon as heard about this letter, hurried to address to committee to support the draft bill?

Looking ahead, I will say that the situation with the letter very eloquently demonstrates why it is so difficult to promote the draft bill in parliament and why some farmers oppose it.

A drop of water reflects the sea

Already at the meeting of the committee it became clear that out of 32 signatories of the letter against the draft bill, five of them do not have a permit for special water usage.

This document should be received by all businesses that use water in their activities - from water utilities and factories to farmers and railways. In other words, these five farms either do not use irrigation or steal water.

After all, they cannot have official agreements on water supply due to the lack of permits. Four more have permits for water usage but don’t have water supply contracts. The situation is the same: they either do not irrigate the land or steal water.

Of the remaining 22, 12 entities still have permits and contracts for water supply, but also have numerous protocols for theft of water: from putting magnets on counter devices to making of illegal channels.

The Ingulets irrigation system (hereinafter IIS) is the largest opened in Ukraine - it is the easiest to steal water from. In most cases, water is supplied to the fields directly from canals with the help of mobile diesel pumps, which belong to the farmers.

In general, the estimated amount of water theft is from 5% to 15% of the total supply to the fields. For example, in 2018, about 13.2 million cubic meters of water were "lost" due to such a scheme in the IIS and were irrigated about 1.15 thousand hectares illegally!

In 2019, 195 illegal insertions into irrigation canals were detected in the IIS, about which specialists, who had been working on the system for 15-20 years, allegedly "did not know"!

All this was discovered due to the fact that in 2019 the Ingulets River Canal Office was established, new leadership was appointed and the economic security department appeared, whose main tasks included the examination of the reclamation network at the territory of the Ingulets irrigation system for the fact of interference or illegal water abstraction.

Interestingly, until then, such a department did not exist at any enterprise that was subordinated to the State Agency of Water Resources of Ukraine.

That means, the state has no idea how much water and funds are lost each year. Besides, it is clear why there was no such an institution, and the information was hidden.

If the workers who manage the canal may not notice the mobile pump (because it may simply not be there during the examination) it is impossible not to see the insert. But for some reason they were “not noticed” for years.

How this happens is well known - you just have to pay for "inattention". But this requires some cash. And to receive it for the harvest, you need to work illegal in whole or in part.

The problem is that for many years in the irrigation sector of Ukraine there is a conspiracy between some farmers and some managers of pumping stations and irrigation systems: the former buy water for irrigation for cash at half price, the latter write it off as water which was lost in the system. As a result, both are enriched and the state loses.

With the creation of Water Users’ Organizations, such a scheme will not be impossible. The members of the organization (water users), will not turn a blind eye to the theft of water for which they payed, as well as for electricity for its pumping.

They will also invest in the development of reclamation systems, set their own irrigation tariffs, and no one will be interested in having their investments stolen from them.

Permission for special water usage

During the consideration of the draft bill #5202-d in the second reading, amendments were made taking into account the remarks of environmentalists, which stipulate that WUOs will have the right to supply water only to those who have permits for special water usage.

In this case, the water user has to notify WUO of the expiration or revocation of the permit for water usage. Moreover, the audit committee must check the correspondence between the amount of water actually supplied and the amount provided for in the permit.

In other words, audit commission is obliged to check that the farmers receive the allowed amount of water and not a cubic meter more. Those who do not have special permits for water usage cannot even be a member of WUO.

All this is done to ensure that the water balance, which is calculated by the State Water Agency when issuing permits, will be observed.

Accordingly, water levels in irrigation sources will not fall below the minimal allowable level and water resources will not be depleted.

This is not a problem for agricultural producers who work legally - they have permits. But those, who work illegally, will not have permits at all. To obtain a permit, it is necessary to indicate where the irrigated lands are located, what their area is and from which source the water for irrigation will be obtained.

And to do it without officially registered land lease agreements and paid taxes - is tantamount to go to the Tax Service with admission of guilt.

By the way, all these amendments exacerbated the previously hidden conflict between those who work and want to continue to work legally, and those who work illegally.

After the adoption of the draft bill #5202-d and the creation of WUOs, the only way to receive water for the current illegal users will be legalization, which is hardly meet with their plans.

Blog for the publication "Economic Truth"

Thursday, 9 December 2021


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