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Information on the Dnepr reservoir and Desna river monitoring

Program designed for and realized by the State Main Ecological Inspectorate in Kiev in 1999.

part 1: overview / aim

The river Dnepr and its tributary Desna are the main drinking water sources for Ukraine and its capital Kiev. In Ukraine, about 70 % of raw water are withdrawn directly from these two rivers. Six huge reservoirs have been build to gain electricity (amongst other reasons) from the Ukrainian part of the Dnepr. The Kiev Reservoir (see photo)dnepr reservoir is situated north of Kiev in the North of Ukraine. It is mostly shallow (about 4 - 8 m deep), but about 90 km long. Its sediment is still contaminated with radionuclides. Wind stress can lead to a re-suspension of sediment and endanger the preparation of save drinking water in the main water work a kilometer downstream.
Another big problem for the water work is  eutrophication in the reservoir. High concentration of phytoplankton (algae and cyanobacteria) in the raw water, as observed in the Dnepr and in the Desna river, leads to a severe
contamination of drinking water after the 1st chlorination. The development of phytoplankton in the Dnepr, and the occurrence of chlororganic compounds in the drinking water should therefore attentively be observed.
The water works of other big cities are located downstream along the river. Water quality however, is not always sufficient and can cause severe problems. Chlororganic compounds in concentrations up to 160 ug/L have often been detected in the Dnepr and its tributaries. To better understand these problems, a special ecological monitoring program has been started in early 1999. The investigation was carried out by the laboratory of the Main State Ecological Inspectorate, Kiev (MEP). It includes:

  •  investigation of substances, which have led to high turbidity and problems in the water work during the winter 98/99. (For some time, the use of Dnepr water was impossible.)
  • study of occurrence, causes and behavior of dissolved organic substances and phytoplankton. (Both lead to the formation of chlororganic compounds after disinfection of raw and drinking water.)

Investigations of  the Dnepr water quality including the Kiev reservoir, are also performed by some other laboratories. The here described program was designed to give supplemental information, which, in this form, is  not available elsewhere.  Therefore special ecological investigation methods have been used which - as far as known - are not part of other programs.


(Analytical information sources are given in an overview of methods). Following, only  no-routine methods (which are less used in Ukraine) will be mentioned:

  • the dynamic of phytoplankton development has been followed by measuring not only chlorophyll a (as an indicator for phytoplankton-biomass) but also the potential photosynthetic activity. This activity can be determined by measurements of the Oxygen Production under standard Laboratory conditions (OPL; Russian letters PKL = ПКЛ). The method follows the German norm (DIN 38412-L 14). The "laboratory conditions" are:
    20 oC, 24 hours incubation time, ~1300 lux.

    For Russian readers, a short description of the ПКЛ method (OPL) is available here. A figure, showing the relation between OPL and chlorophyll a, one can find here. The proportion OPL/chlorophyll gives the "photosynthetic capacity".

  • organic matter has been measured using the UV absorption at 254 nm  (SAC254) and the chemical oxygen demand (COD). The UV absorption is very sensitive to humic acids. Calculating the proportion between SAC254 and COD will therefore give an idea on the nature of the organic matter. (more details)
    Sampling in the middle of the reservoir and from different depths was not possible for technical reasons, but 5 different places along the western and eastern shores and downstream of the reservoir could be visited twice a month until July '99, later about once per month.


Inorganic matter:

During ice cover of the reservoir, atmospheric aeration is completely reduced and oxygen content can drop to almost near zero and cause fish kills as in March 1999. The resolution of many compounds from the sediment is much stronger than before, especially manganese (Mn) concentration is increased in the water.

Organic matter:

Organic substances consist, first of all, in humic matter and phytoplankton. After the thawing of ice, phytoplankton development  immediately started and reached maximum values already on the 7th of April '99. If weather gets worse (cloudy) for about a week or more, the phytoplankton density is strongly diminished to near zero. Other factors influencing the phytoplankton, as for example phosphorous and zooplankton, have still to be investigated.
As long as the phytoplankton density is high, it differs very much between the five places.  This is obviously the effect of wind stress and/or nutrients. As an indicator for photosynthetic active phytoplankton, the results of OPL measurements are presented graphically. Especially Cyanobacteria were accumulated near the banks but Cyanobacteria water blooms over nearly the whole surface of the reservoir, as in earlier years, have not been observed in the years 1999 and 2000. From November till March, the reservoir is almost completely covered by ice and sometimes snow (no transparency!), and the water level falls more than 1 m. Surprisingly, the phytoplankton (mostly diatoms) reached again very high concentration in December 1999 under the new ice cover. The maximal oxygen content under the ice cover - 100 m away from the shore - was 21 (twenty one) mg/L! The influence of phytoplankton on the oxygen concentration (near the surface) is shown . Downstream of the reservoir, water surface was still open 1st of December. The Desna river was additionally investigated for comparison. Its water was turbid over a longer period of time because of bank erosion and transport of silt or clay. Phytoplankton also developed, but mostly to a smaller extend than in the Dnepr. Only in October 1999 and September 2000 a much higher content was registered (compare figure below). Another group of compounds leading to the formation of chlororganic substances in the water work are humic acids. Together with iron and manganese, they give the Dnepr water a brownish color all over the year. Therefore it is important to get an idea about the
origin and composition of the organic compounds on a regular basis. Afterwards it should be possible to make a prognosis on the formation of chlororganic substances (measured as AOX or THM). Figures for prognostic calculations of THM formation have already been published ten years ago. Humic acids, their ecological importance and their behavior in the water works are subject of further studies. A few aspects including analytical information and further results are reported here.

The diagrams show, as an example, the development of phytoplankton (its photosynthetic activity) from March 1999 to September 2000 in the Dnepr (5 sampling points, 1st graphic ) and in its tributary, the Desna river (columns in figure below). The photos show the Desna in summer and winter.

r. desna Desna River near Sokolovka


Due to a lack of precipitation (snow and rain) in winter and spring 2015, the floodplains of r. Desna were not flooded. The water level in the Desna was already very low and reached a minimum in summer and autumn 2015. Parts of the river bed near the shore, which were not visible during the past 20 years or more, were dry (photo below).





The diagram shows the average monthly discharge of the r. Desna at Chernigov (150 km north of Kiev).

Beside OPL, the figure below shows curves of water temperature (blue) and pH values (red) as well for the Desna river. As expected, OPL and pH are correlated (r = 0,65; p < 0,05). The presentation of monitoring results was interrupted end of the year 2000  because of technical reasons in the lab (s.fig.below).


7  kB only

9 kB only

The below presented figures show the ecological relevance of phytoplankton for other parameters. Its photosynthetic activity  influences the oxygen content below the water surface (r = 0,83; p<0,05). Its biomass seems to be an important factor for the biochemical oxygen demand, measured as BOD5 (below).

OPL = oxygen production under standard conditions

OPL = oxygen produktion under standard conditions

The basic organic load in the Dnepr water is built by humic matter. Its concentration changes in dependence of the origin of water: in the north-west of the catchment area, swamps are accumulated. They permanently spend their water into the tributary Pripjat and its tributaries. Water from the North-East contains less humic acid but more nutrients. More explanations and information for the analytical description of different water types have been prepared for presentation.


Main reasons for the deterioration of raw water quality are substances resolved from the reservoirs sediment in winter and phytoplankton development in summer and winter. Humic substances, mainly originating from the Pripjat swamps, can cause problems in the water treatment plant all over the year.
The Desna river water is often very turbid (silt/clay) because of bank erosion. This slightly diminishes the phytoplankton content compared to the Dnepr.


Other Information sources

1. A more complete overview with respect to environmental impacts of the whole Dnepr river basin, is given in the following link: 

3. A few statistical data and thematical river basin maps have been published in the www by the World RESOURCES INSTITUTE.

4. EPR Recommendations made to Ukraine by the UN/ECE Committee on Environmental Policy
see chapter 8: water management

5. Further information can be found in the World Bank report no. 12238-UA from 1993.

6. A new, excellent but only quite short overview over the actual state of other big rivers in the world is given in a press release available through the WWC homepage.

7. Ecological monitoring of the Dnipro reservoir north of Kiev with the focus on drinking water issues

8. SNISHKO, S. (2001): Wasserwirtschaftliche und ökologische Situation im Dnipro-Einzugsgebiet ... (water management and ecological situation in the Dnipro river basin) (German) - Hydrologie und Wasserbewirtschaftung 45, 1, p. 1-8  

part 2: Table of facts and data concerning the Dnepr River Basin

(Source: ICID webpage, changed)

General geographical data

Source of the River:

Valdai Hills, in Western Russia

Length of the River (km):



Black Sea

Important tributaries:

Byarezina, Desna, Pripjat

Basin area (km2):


Discharge at mouth (m3/s):


Average Population Density (people/km2):




Percent of Watershed



Forest Cover:




Irrigated Area:


Arid Area:




Built-up Area



Hydraulic Structures: Number of Dams (>15m high) on Main Stem of River:                     11

Navigation:               The river is navigable up to Orsha. Many of its numerous tributaries are also navigable.

Important towns:         Dnepropetrovsk, Kiev, Pinsk, Chernigov, Bryansk

 Countries in the Basin: 


Area in the basin

Percent area in the basin










 River System  

The Dnepr is the third longest European river after Volga and Danube. Draining the Western portions of European Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, the Dnepr flows in a generally southerly direction to empty into the Black Sea near Cherson in Ukraine.  

The headwaters of the river lie west of Moscow near Sychevka. The source region is low and swampy, and not suitable for intensive cultivation. However, the region is connected by an intricate system of riverine canals connected to Baltic Sea via Western Dvina. 

Dnepr is the major waterway of Ukraine. Just north of Kiev, the river is deflected in its course by a plateau. Below Kiev, the river enters a series of rapids. 

Giant Dam projects, initiated by the erstwhile Soviet Union, beginning in 1930s, have resulted in creation of several reservoirs that have helped in navigation of upstream reaches, because of inundation of the rapids. The mighty Kremenchug dam is located downstream of Kiev. 

The Zaporozhe, the Kakhovka and Dneprodzerzhinsk dams are a few amongst the series of dams built on the river. The mighty Dniprohes dam's hydro-electric station in Ukraine was the largest power station in Europe, when first built in 1932. The power provided is used in the large steel making and engineering concentrations in Ukraine. This concrete dam is 1500 m long and 61 m high with storage capacity of 12.22 BCM and produces about 650 Mw of power. The river's natural cascades have been transformed into comprehensive sites of dams, locks and reservoirs. The Kakhovka dam is the last dam on the river, lying at the lower end of this chain of hydraulic monuments built along lower Dnepr. The giant reservoirs have helped improve navigation with the aid of canals joining the river and many of its tributaries to other major waterways.  

At Cherson, the Dnepr begins to break up into distributary channels. The delta is complicated and does not appear as a classic triangular shape. The swampy lower course of river debouches into a long, narrow estuary known as the Dnepr Liman, an arm of the Black Sea that receives the waters of the Southern Bug


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