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Better Hydro: regional initiative on sustainable hydropower

This case study is featured in Better Hydro: Compendium of Case Studies 2017, which highlights examples of good practice in hydropower sustainability across all aspects of project development. You can download the full compendium here.


Key facts

Partners: Shardara Reservoir Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Kazakhstan; Deutsche Gesellschaft Für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation, GIZ); CAREC (the Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia)
Associated projects: Shardara multi-purpose project (100 MW)
Region/basin: Aral-Syrdarya basin (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan)


When the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol was finalised in November 2010, representatives from the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ) programme for transboundary water management in Central Asia asked the International Hydropower Association (IHA) to apply the Protocol to the Shardara multi-purpose project in Kazakhstan. The resulting report was delivered in December that year, but the initiative didn’t stop there.

The assessment led to steps to improve transboundary basin management, modernise the Shardara project, and promote sustainability in hydropower across the Central Asian region. 

After the finalisation of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol in November 2010, the first assessment was carried out in Kazakhstan.

It was an assessment of the Shardara multi-purpose project, organised with the support of a GIZ (then GTZ) programme on transboundary water management in Central Asia.

The Shardara multi-purpose project is located in southern Kazakhstan, near the border with Uzbekistan. The project is one of many reservoirs, weirs, barrages and hydropower plants on the 2,200 km Syrdarya River. Its purpose is irrigation and flood regulation, with power generation as an additional benefit. It was built between 1964 and 1967 and has a capacity of 100 MW. 

JSC Shardarinskaya GES, incorporated in 1998, is the owner and manager of the plant. The company is 100 per cent owned by Samruk Energy, a power sector subsidiary of the National Welfare Fund Samruk Kazyna.

Embedding a sustainability assessment into a wider programme builds stakeholder awareness and buy-in

The GIZ programme on transboundary water management supports Central Asian states in establishing suitable water management structures. 

The programme ran from 2009 to 2017 under the German Federal Foreign Office’s Central Asia water initiative (the ‘Berlin Process’), with partial co-financing from the European Union. Its objective is to support Central Asian states in jointly developing practical approaches for sustainable regional water management.

Within this programme, the Protocol assessment was embedded in a wider evaluation process, involving partners across Kazakhstan and the whole region. The final report, prepared by Dr Helen Locher (a Protocol accredited assessor), was translated into Russian and distributed to all involved institutions from Astana, Shimkent (the provincial capital) and Shardara, in March 2011. 

An evaluation meeting was held in late March 2011, and minutes of the meeting were distributed to stakeholders. The national Kazakh committee of water resources and the Ministry of Environmental Protection delivered official responses in May of that year. 

The results and recommendations are useful for the further development of reservoir management...and we recommend the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol be applied to the entire Syrdarya basin.”

A range of institutions interviewed during the assessment actively participated in the evaluation meeting. These included: the Ministry of Industry and New Technologies; the Shardara Hydropower Plant board; the Shimkent Committee of Water Resources; the Aral-Syrdarya Basin Inspection; and the Ministry of Agriculture. 

A number of other stakeholders also participated, notably the EC IFAS – Executive Committee of the Fund for Saving the Aral Sea; and CAREC, the Central Asian Regional Ecological Centre. 

CAREC is supporting on basin planning and Basin Council issues in the Kazakh Aral-Syrdarya Basin Inspection (the main institution of the state committee on water resources in the lower Syrdarya basin), which is responsible for the inspection of water use, including water protection zones, within the GIZ programme. 

Other stakeholders present included: other committees on water resources; the provincial Nature Conservation Department; the State Institute Hydroproject; the Kazakh Scientific-Research Water Resources Institute; and the South-Kazakh State University, Shimkent.

The purpose of the evaluation meeting was to consider the findings of the assessment, as well as the suitability of the approach for the region. The overall response of the participants was positive, with many highlighting the value of the approach and promising to study the report. 

The chairman of the Kazakh committee on water resources noted in an official response that: “The results and recommendations are useful for the further development of reservoir management...and we recommend the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol be applied to the entire Syrdarya basin.”

A protocol assessment may help attract support of international financial institutions

Some of the key findings of the assessment, on the topics of asset reliability and efficiency (Protocol topic O-5) and infrastructure safety (O-6), were that all assets, including generation, reservoir, and irrigation and drainage assets, still require considerable investment for rehabilitation works. 

Whilst dam safety is closely monitored, and dam and plant rehabilitation works have safety as a strong priority, the need for a new emergency gate at Shardara was a priority, and it was also necessary to replace a second dam’s gates and plant gates, and improve irrigation drainage.

JSC Shardarinskaya GES has since instigated a rehabilitation project, with loan finance from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). A ten-year loan of up to EUR 75 million was agreed in 2012, for a EUR 96 million project to replace old equipment and improve efficiency.

Locally focused information sharing supports wider-scale transboundary coordination 

One of the key recommendations of the assessment was that the chairman of the committee on water resources (the state agency with responsibility for water resources) should establish a Shardara Reservoir Council. 

This would be a more locally-focused grouping within the Aral-Syrdarya Council, which could meet to discuss reservoir management issues and share information between agencies. The Shardara Reservoir Council would also provide a forum to address issues raised by stakeholders. 

Conclusions under the communications and consultation (Protocol topic O-1) and governance (O-2) topics highlighted that, despite some mechanisms for coordination, such as the Syrdarya Basin Water Organisation and Aral-Syrdarya Basin Council, it was unclear how much lateral exchange of information occurs. 

The conclusions also raised an absence of dialogue between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan operational staff on the Arnasai dam. The dam is located on the southernmost point of the Shardara reservoir, and releases water into Uzbekistan. 

Transboundary information and negotiation problems (upstream with respect to inflows, and downstream with respect to the Arnasai dam) were left unresolved, and presented a risk for operations.

The committee of water resources acted upon this recommendation, establishing the Shardara Reservoir Council as a forum to discuss local issues of reservoir management between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Ongoing training initiatives promote wider informal and formal use of the protocol

The chair of the Shardara Reservoir Council participated in a series of training events organised by CAREC in Almaty in 2016. Other participants included representatives from EC IFAS and trainees from across all Central Asian countries.

  • CAREC approached IHA in 2016 to ask for further training on the Protocol and support for awareness-raising of the Protocol across the region. The resulting initiative comprised: 

  • a training event to raise awareness among decision-makers;

  • The development of a dissemination brochure in Russian;

  • an additional 'train-the-trainer' event; and

  • the development of a scientific paper concerning the initiative (“The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol – its relevance and suitability for application in Central Asia”).

One of the key questions raised during the training, which is also addressed in the scientific paper, is: 'Why use the protocol in Central Asia?'. 

Developers and operators of hydropower projects in the region have to follow detailed regulations and engineering standards for project development. Participants were interested in understanding how the Protocol compared to these standards. 

Participants also wanted to understand how the Protocol complements international lenders’ requirements. 

The scientific paper, prepared in Russian, addressed these questions with the following answers:

  • the protocol consists of a comprehensive range of topics, including technical and financial, as well as environmental and social issues;

  • the protocol is focused entirely on hydropower (unlike lenders' requirements, which are general);

  • a protocol assessment can be used as a tool for stakeholder engagement;

  • a protocol assessment provides a rapid "check" on a project’s sustainability; and

  • Following the training events, IHA, CAREC and EC IFAS entered into discussion on the steps needed to promote the protocol further in Central Asia. 

Potential actions under discussion are:

  • the translation of one or two official assessments of projects in other locations into Russian, or summaries, as examples of assessment reports;

  • developing training materials and delivering training courses at a national level, possibly in partnership with universities, targeted at teachers and students;

  • providing the protocol brochure and presentations, for example to ministries and working groups, and annual regional meetings of water sector organisations, and development partners;

  • disseminating materials in Russian, such as a website, standard presentations, case studies, and a video of the process of an official assessment; and

  • developing an approach to using the protocol that is appropriate for rehabilitation projects.


The case study is featured in Better Hydro: Compendium of Case Studies 2017, which highlights examples of good practice in hydropower sustainability across all aspects of project development. You can download the full compendium here.