Manych Ship Canal

Manych Ship Canal

The Manych Ship Canal is a projected water transport connection between the basins of the Sea of Azov/Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

The most probable technical parameters of Manych Ship Canal are 6.5 m in depth, 80 m in width and more than 75 mln tons per year of traffic capacity. The Canal is envisaged for the passage of the vessels with a freight-carrying capacity of up to 10000 tons.[1]

Russia is a country with a unique geographic location and that is the main factor in the creation of the Russian transport infrastructure. The existing transport complex often does not correspond economically to the current logistics of Russian and foreign consignors.


Projections for development

Projections for development of the freight turnover in the South of Russia prepared by the Central Research Institute of Economy and Water Transport Exploitation shows that traffic of foreign-trade freight has a steady growth trend and that is true for the water transport system of the region too. Meanwhile, the Volga-Don Ship Canal, constructed in the 1950s, is obsolescent and almost has approached its traffic capacity limit (14.8 million tons). For the improvement of the transport situation in the South of Russia and in the whole Caspian region, several variants of water transport connection between basins of Azov-Black and Caspian seas are being considered, and among them is the completion of construction of the Manych Ship Canal (conditional name “EURASIA”).

The 700 km long Manych Ship Canal partially involves the existing Manych Waterway within the Veselovskoe and Proletarskoe reservoirs, Manych-Gudilo lake and can be prolonged to the Caspian sea via sparsely populated steppes of Kalmykia. The watershed between the Azov and Caspian seas, with the height of the western slope at 27 m and height of the eastern slope at 54 m, according to preliminary works of expert center of hydraulic facilities safety “GIDROEXPERTIZA”, can be surmounted by construction of 3-4 shipping locks of low pressure on the western slope and 3 average pressure or 6 low pressure shipping locks on the eastern slope. Construction of 6 low pressure shipping locks on the eastern slope of the watershed can significantly reduce volume of earthwork and lower by a third fresh water requirements, which is approximately precalculated as 1.5 cubic km.

There are several possible ways to supply the Manych Ship Canal with water:

1. Completion of construction of the Volga-Chograi Canal in moistureproof version, possibly in the form of a pipeline. 2. Water feed of the canal from the permanently fresh waters near the mouth of the Volga river and pumping water up along the eastern cascade of the main canal. 3. Water feed of the ship route by using existing canals for transferring water from upper reaches of the rivers Kuban and Terek, including overflows during floods. This could beneficially affect the problem of frequent inundations on these rivers.

It should be noted, that water feed of Manych Ship Canal by using the first and the second ways can compensate to the Sea of Azov the volume of fresh water lost on the Don River during processes of locking on the Volga slope of the Volga-Don Shipping Canal.


The West Manych river, before it became regulated, consisted of 15 small lakes, connected with narrow streams. After spring floods, the Manych quickly became shallow because the geological structure of the Manych depression looks like an ideal plain with “plates” and hollows scattered on it with depth, as a rule, not more than 2 m. In summer, this place often looked like flat cracked saline land, in some areas sparkling with the whiteness of salt.

The decision about the construction of a canal connecting the Black and Caspian sea was approved in May 1932, and in the same year construction works in the West Manych river valley began. According to the construction project of 1936, the shipping route was divide in three sections. The first section–from the Don river to Chograi dam, with a length of 448 km, was planned as a number of reaches (reservoir storages); the second section–from Chograi Dam to the Kuma river, was projected as a canal with depth of water 3 m, width of bottom 67 m, length 73 km; the third section, with a length of 150 km, was intended as free-flow navigable and irrigational canal reaching a port on the Caspian coast.

By 1941 the Poiree dam, an earthen dam 4,7 km long near Veseliy hamlet and weir near stanitsa Proletarskaya was constructed. As a result the Ust-Manych reservoir (62 km long), Veselovskoe reservoir (100 km long) and Proletarskoe reservoirs (150 km long) were formed. After the connection of Manych-Gudilo lake to Proletarskoe reservoir a locked waterway (329 km long) was created. The Chogray reservoir (48,8 km long) from west to east point was constructed in 1969-1973 on the East-Manych river.

With the outbreak of the 'Great Patriotic war' (i.e. World War II), construction of Manych Ship canal was suspended. After the war, imploded hydraulic works of the suspended shipping canal were reconstructed, but in connection with commissioning of the Volga-Don Shipping Canal and because of the lack of freight flow for loading of two canals and absolutely no necessity of transit traffic at that time, the construction was canceled.

At the present time the Volga-Don Shipping Canal does not meet the needs of carriers of countries of the Caspian region and completion of construction of the Manych Ship Canal would favour further growth of cargo traffic between the Caspian and Azov-Black Sea basins.

The 20th century

In the second half of the twentieth century, economic use of the Manych steppes became stronger. In 1948, the Nevinnomyssky canal was complete and water from Kuban River began to flow to reservoirs of Manych. By summer of 1954 water level of Proletarskoe reservoir reached the altitude mark of -11,9 m and Manych-Gudilo lake became full-flowing. Salinity of the water system rapidly decreased, lakes became filled; many of them formed one connected system.

Filling of the Manych with water; the creation of water supply canals, led to the appearance of a considerable quantity of new places for nesting and increasing quantity of fodder resources for wading birds. During the first 15-20 years after the construction of the tandem reservoir system biodiversity of fish fauna was considerably increased, some species of fish gained in importance in the fishery.

However, at the present time, because of water salinity, fish yields in Proletarskoe reservoir have significantly decreased and fishing is possible only in mouths of rivers which fall into reservoirs. Completion of the construction of the canal made possible the supplying of Mancy-Gudilo Lake with fresh water under human control, which can reduce water salinity levels down to the best value. In result, biodiversity of fish fauna and its productivity would be increased.

With a view to intensify further economic development of the South of Russia, completion of the construction of the Canal proves the barest necessity. Construction of additional processing capacities for the discovered oil and gas fields on the near-Caspian territory of Russia will result in necessity to carry up to 15 mln tons of cargo per annum by 2020.

In the same time, there are plans in [[Kazakhstan], Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan for the creation of processing capacities of their own, due to which the total amount of processed oil products will reach 25 mln tons. That amount most probably will be carried to Western Europe by waterways ratger than by railway. Also, transportation of oil from the Caspian shelf oilfield to processing capacities of Lukoil and Kazmunaigaz on the Black Sea shore by tankers without transshipments seems like the optimal decision.

Modernization of the existing navigation canal "Volga-Don" can only meet the requirements of Russian companies. Aware of the impossibility to convey cargo from the Caspian states to Western Europe through the existing and prospective Russian transport routes by 2020, their representatives are sure to lead negotiations on construction of a transport corridor through Azerbaijan to the Georgian seaports in the Black Sea or through Iran to the Persian Gulf.

It is in the national interests of Russia to create an cost-beneficial universal transport route that could satisfy all the requirements of the economically developing Caspian countries. If Russia abandons construction of the Manych Ship Canal, it is unlikely to be able to provide competitive cargo tariffs and, thus, is sure to lose a considerable part of profits from the transit of cargo of expanding economies of countries in the Caspian region.

For the South of Russia completion of the construction of the Canal can become a key factor of formation of industrial clusters connected to the shipping route (territories of Republics of Kalmykia and Dagestan, Stavropol and Krasnodarsky Territories, Rostov and Astrakhan regions).

Irrigation and hydro-electricity

The fresh water from the Canal will increase watering of arid areas and, thereby, yields of agriculture and husbandry. It is possible to construct a hydroelectric pumped storage power plants on the base of facilities of the Canal. Such power plants could significantly increase operating benefits of wind-driven powerplants planned to be constructed in Republic of Kalmykia and Stavropol Territory.

Implementation of the project will shorten delivery time and cut down transport expenses, which is sure to contribute to the competitive ability of the Russian transport network. Construction and maintenance of the Canal will promote further development of the regional productive forces, i.e. establishment of new enterprises and, thus, new workplaces in the regions with a high unemployment rate; will reduce social tension and extend the taxable basis.

Environmental impact

In conclusion, if one compares possible consequences of ecocatastrophes to appear while transporting oil and oil-products by tankers with capacity of 5 000 tons along the Manych Ship Canal and Volga-Don Waterway, it is evident that negative influence on the unique natural complex of the Volga-Akhtuba inter-river area is sure to be more severe, for out of strong current along the navigation part of the river and numerous shoals and ducts it is almost impossible to localize an oil patch.

In the case of a shipwreck of tanker freight, carrying a capacity of 5000 tons with oil spillage, for example, near Volgograd, the whole lower part of the Volga, including protected areas and nature reserves, would suffer catastrophic damage. The same is fair for thelower part of the Don. So. Because of this it must be forbidden to use tankers with a capacity over 5,000 tons for transportation of oil and oil-products without extreme necessity along the natural waterways, including the Volga-Don Waterway.

On the Manych Ship Canal such a shipwreck would lead to local limited extent pollution between shipping locks. System of locks would allow to control flow velocity and reduce the speed of oil patch spread down to a minimum, and quickly remove the results of an oil spill.

Also, it must be noticed, that during a period of 30 years the water level of the Caspian Sea can vary within 4 m. In the case of a recession of the water level of the Caspian Sea down to true altitude of -29 m, the depth of the lower Volga would decrease and it would be very difficult to maintain a planned dimension of ship movement via this part of the Volga-Don Waterway.

At the same time, the level of a shipping lock in the Manych Ship Canal near the Caspian Sea can be designed with a glance to water level fluctuation.

The proposed conceptual project of a new water transport connection is not only an important part of the prospective national transport system (to serve internal and international cargo traffic, including transportation of the Caspian oil) but is a multipurpose water-resources scheme with huge economic potential for the region.

It is evident that construction of a canal in the arid zone should be preceded by fundamental studies of prospective consequences of the designed engineering and construction works for the environment. Implementation of the project is connected with considerable earth excavation when laying the canal track.

The actual environmental impact statement can be presented on design stage only. Minimization of the negative ecological impact can be provided only if separate design companies and experts co-ordinate their technical decisions. Some scientists also make assumptions that the salt waters of the Azov Sea can fall into the Canal.

According to the project concept the watershed point is in the Chograi reservoir; fresh waters along the western slope (27 m) go down to the Don and along the eastern slope (54 m) - to the Caspian Sea. Thus, the whole canal track will be filled with fresh water.

Positive consequences of implementation of the project: 1. Creation of prerequisites for social and economic, agricultural, industrial development, development of nature conservation and fish processing industry in the adjacent regions of Kalmykia, Dagestan, Stavropol krai and Rostov oblast. 2. Improvement of water supply in the arid zone. Nowadays every 4-th citizen of the coastal zone in the Republic of Kalmykia suffers from kidney affection caused by saline subsoil water and transfer of salt by wind from the area adjacent to Manych Lake. After construction of the Manych Ship Canal it will be possible to supply Manych-Gudilo Lake with fresh water under human control, which can reduce water saltiness level down to a better value. 3. Investigations of the local ecosystems increase assessments for nature conservation. 4. Job growth, creation of workplaces, sesation of the outflow of able-bodied population, influx of qualified specialists from other regions and cities. 5. Widening of the existing social infrastructure (dwelling houses, kindergartens, educational institutions, hospitals, benefits of culture, etc.), improvement of citizens health, optimization of the demographic and environmental situations in the region.

The mentioned engineering and construction measures and implementation of the project in general could extenuate the existing negative processes in the Manych-Chograi ecosystem. Thus, to foresee all the aspects of environmental safety in the arid zone of the South of Russia basic research on prognostics and modeling of climatic volatility is required.

It should be mentioned, that if the canal is fed from the area of permanently fresh waters near the mouth of the Volga river via pumping water up along the eastern cascade of the main canal, it would be possible to use plans of construction of wind-electric set for the power supply of pumps.

For the water supply of processes of locking on the canal an amount of electric power of 60 MW will be suitable. Such an amount can be provided by construction of 30 wind-electric sets with an output of 3 MW each. In the variant of construction of the Canal using 6 locks it meets the construction of 10 sets near every of 3 locks on the eastern slope of the Canal. Besides that, it will be possible to use the return part of energy during lockage.

Thereby, facilities of the Canal can be used for reserving water on the upstream of the Canal for power generation according to pumped-storage hydroelectricity scheme in times of peak level usage or zero-wind conditions. Thus, this Canal can become an ecological hydraulic structure. In addition, the Canal can minimize the negative effects on the environment made by our predecessors. Completion of construction of the Manych Ship Canal can become an example of a comprehensive approach to the development of arid areas.

This assessment is preliminary and must become more concrete after conducting proper comprehensive ecological and engineer researches of the area through which the canal track will be laid, after the planned engineering solution and the operating regime of the Canal.

Completion of construction of the Manych Ship Canal, which will link the Caspian and Azov Seas and provide an outlet to world oceans for the South of Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and the Northern part of Iran, must become an important factor for the development of the whole Southern Federal District.

In contrast to pipeline transportation, water transport allows to ship all types of cargo, including products of hydrocarbon process industry, which cannot be transported by pipelines or such transporting of which is not profitable. Ship canal would become an important factor of developing of manufacturing industry of the South of Russia (Republics of Kalmykia and Dagestan, Stavropol and Krasnodarskiy Territories, Rostov and Astrakhan Regions). Oil and gas processing, chemical industry and other export-oriented productions can get a high-power development impulse.

Decrease of unemployment rate also would be one of the most important results of completion of construction of the Manych Ship Canal. Southern Federal District is the most problem region of Russia with a view to the employment of population, and that is one of the causes of social tensions growth.

Lack of employment leads to the drift of the population away from the region while a narrow range of choice of needed professions, as a rule, limited to agriculture and husbandry, brings highly skilled specialists, among them graduates of the best colleges or universities of Russia, to look for a job away from home. Therewith, present rates of birth and natality of the South of Russia, the highest in Russian Federation, allow us to suggest future aggravation of the problem of employment if the present situation does not change. Completion of construction of the Canal will lead to the emergence of considerable quantity of new jobs in production, formed by the influence of operation of the Canal (oil processing/refining, chemical industry, other export-oriented productions) and in the process of construction and operation of the navigational route directly. It should be mentioned, that creation of new jobs in productive industry leads to increasing of number of employees in service industries.

The fresh water from the Canal would favour the increasing of productivity of agriculture and husbandry. Desalinization of strongly saline water bodies on which the canal route goes will significantly improve qualitative composition and rack up yields of fishery.

Completion of construction of Manych Ship Canal will lead to emergence of manufacturing activities, significant decrease of unemployment rate, normalization of migration situation, increasing of incomes and improving the well-being of the people.

Feasibility studies

Scientific and technical aspects to feasibility studies of new water and land routes have always been relevant for the densely populated South of Russia. From this viewpoint the intention to construct a navigation canal should be thoroughly studied lest there should be any environmentally negative consequences. It is evident that total estimation of possible consequences is to be held during the projecting phase. Initially the basic risk factors are as follows:

1. Increase in salinity of soil as a result of underflooding (subsoil water); 2. Possibility to bring in elements of flora and fauna which are foreign to the region; 3. Menace of oil pollution of the water basin and littoral (coastal) ecosystems. Measures for lessening of prospective negative influence should be based on the list of the above mentioned potential menaces.

Thus, to prevent further underflooding and soil salinization concreting of the canal invert and banks or other measures for decrease of percolating water losses are required. This will also help diminish the intensity of abrasive processes (deterioration of the shore line).

According to the project concept, there will be no direct waterway between the Azov and Caspian seas, for the watershed is on the level of the Chograi reservoir. A complex of measures for control over the ballast waters, elaboration of technical procedure for their sterilization will greatly diminish the danger of mutual penetration of foreign fauna.

The closed reservoirs of the Kuma-Manych depression are over-mineralized which results in soil salinization of the adjacent areas and appearance of unusable agricultural areas. Inflow of water is sure to lead to less mineralization of water and as a part of it- partial desalinization of the soil.

To prevent oil pollution the barest necessity is to strictly observe the existing regulations for tanker oil transportation. Absence of constant current and the designed system of waterworks installations are to facilitate localization of oil patches and other types of surface pollution and removal of its consequences. 500 of 700 km of the designed canal track passes through the existing reservoirs, and, in fact, requires deepening of the canal invert.

Minimization of the environmentally negative impact can be provided if only separate design companies and environment experts co-ordinate their technical decisions and strictly observe the technical regulations and norms. Taking into account the above mentioned, consider that implementation of the project on construction of the navigation canal "Eurasia" is feasible and will not have environmentally negative consequences.


Болаев А.В. "Предварительная оценка влияния завершения строительства Манычского судоходного канала (канала "Евразия") на социально-экономическое развитие Юга России" - Вестник Института комплексных исследований аридных территорий, 2008 №2 (Arasha Bolaev "Preliminary estimation of influence of completion of construction of the Manych Ship Canal (the Eurasia Canal) on the socio-economic development of the South of Russia", Herald of the Institute of Complex Research of Arid Territories, 2008 №2)


  1. ^ "Снова о Евразии - Араша Болаев" ("Again about the Eurasia Canal" - Arasha Bolaev) "Pravitelstvennaya Gazeta" (The Government Newspaper), 12 july 2008 (Russian)

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