Lake of Gazivode topic in Belgrade Pristina relationship was a “bed of nails” topic and to be honest, I personally and professionally was reluctant to speak or write about it. I do not know anyone who said something constructive about it and capitalized from it. Anyone with some knowledge about this resource and its meaning to Kosovo’s economy and wisdom about the Brussels’ process would estimate that Lake of Gazivode is a deal maker or deal breaker. In Belgrade-Pristina agreement, the Lake of Gazivode should be a millstone of Comprehensive Agreement on the Normalization. If it would be ignored, frozen conflict would introduce new dispute over water resources and there would not be peace and stability in this region.

A long ago, on a table full of the most prominent intellectuals from Kosovo, I’ve presented following argument:

  1. If Kosovo could acquire control over Lake of Gazivode at some costs (including cost of stability in the region), this control would have a short life time. In foreseeable future Serbia could claim its parental rights and use the water source from the water table in their jurisdiction on the Lake of Gazivode or from Ibar River upstream area to the Montenegro state border. Serbia could divert the water volume to region of Sandzak (Tutin, Novi Pazar and Raska) and used water could be discharged in to the same river banks in Raska town. Considering that the water source and discharge point is the same river, there wouldn’t be violation of the UNECE convention on Trans boundary waters since Serbia is not recognizing Kosovo.
  2. Alternative and solution to prevent this scenario that could limit Kosovo’s economy to grow I presented was: –Instead of controlling the resource, designate this resource for operation and management to Serbians from the Kosovo North! Revenues from the operation would be a strong incentive for Serbians to integrate into Kosovo society and any attempt from Republic of Serbia to use reservoir water or divert river Ibar elsewhere would be futile. As the effect, Serbians from Kosovo could protect Kosovo water needs indefinitely!
Water table Lake of Gazivode
Lake of Gazivode water table

To this day, I’ve found no opposition to this argument apart from the pure nationalistic and emotionally driven responses: Lake of Gazivode is KosovA’s property and national treasure, closing the door for any meaningful debate. True burden and cost of this resistance to change could have severe effect on Kosovo economy. There was one person, today Kosovo MP who stated that my argument seems logical and if he would ever find the flaw in my argument he’ll let me know. I’m still waiting for his call.

The critical issue that has most significance in this story is that this century would be a water century. Fresh water scarcity due to the increase in water withdrawal for the purpose of agriculture or industrial outputs is expected to grow doubling water use in less than 25 years in the region. Climate change and uncertainty about it could affect both the demand and supply. All elements are not working in the favor to both sides and some creative approach is necessary today to overcome future limitations.

My starting premise on presented argument about the Lake of Gazivode issue was very simple: Who ever attain the control of the Lake of Gazivode facilities, if the interest of Serbia would not be protected, it would lose the water from the reservoir! 

International Policy framework on Trans boundary waters

Trans-boundary waters are difficult international topic. Most of the natural boundaries between the states are rivers and other water bodies. Disputes are ever-present like nowadays in our region: Gulf of Piran (Croatia / Slovenia sea border), Serbia / Croatia border on the Danube, Montenegro/Croatia border on the gulf of Boka Kotorska entry, BiH / Croatia sea border etc. Most of the issues are not related to the size area of the water bodies wanted but about the resources in fisheries, domestic/international navigable water use, land route traffic, access to the ports etc. Water in international rivers basins especially in conflict sensitive areas could be even more severe: countries are willing to defend their interest by force if necessary (ICG 2002).

Figure 1 Catchment area Gazivode Dam
Figure 1. Catchment are Gazivode and Ibar basin area near 130sqkm in Kosovo (ESIAF 2016)

Because of site specific complex issues and misaligned interest of the parties involved, there is no solid international treaty or policy as the guideline for states to follow like “one size fits all” and let’s not lose energy on case points from the world since bilateral agreements are the only option that delivered some results and that would be exercised here.

Best practice on sustainable water management known to me is a Commerce Clause of the US Constitution on “Navigable Waters” (the term from Common Law evolved to the much more robust meaning). Commerce Clause designates federal power (Congress) to control shared resources and this federal nature is a prime reason for its success.

EU offers the DIRECTIVE 2000/60/EC integrated water management but unlike the US example EU would never be able to implement this federal aspect due to the diverse political reasons of individual member states. Waters are managed across the boundaries with coordinated approach within the river watershed-basins areas. Focus is on water quality and sustainable water use has limited effect. Also, there is an institutional gap in the implementation (national legislations vs. EU directives).  In the relationship of shared river basins/watershed with the non state members, Directive calls in effect International UNECE Conventions on water protection and management (UNECE Helsinki 1992). UNECE convention has interesting model of forming the “Joint Body” from Riparian Parties (states in dispute) but in case of Serbia and Kosovo this model due to the status dispute would be indefinitely ineffective.

None of the above offers any solid guideline and delegate responsibility over the water resources especially in the contexts of the sovereignty dispute over Kosovo.

Beware of incoming “Water War”

Ibar river integrated management in the circumstance of the disputed sovereignty over Kosovo is at this point unspoken thing but can pose a threat to the stability to the region. In order to elaborate this, allow me to speculate some options and possible future scenarios of the water consumption from Ibar basin. Some options are real and under way to be implemented, some are simply hypotheses driven to extreme backboned with the data that could attract investors (hydro plants in upper stream of Ibar River), some are documented in the recent studies, while others are subject to the national policies… Basic knowledge of the region geography and physics/math skills isn’t necessary but is desirable to understand this issues and rational behind possible propositions.

Option 1, Kosovo enhances water withdrawal from existing facilities / Likelihood – HIGH.

Kosovo is currently working on the project of Ibar-Lepenac canal rehabilitation to cater water demand in Kosovo, financed through WB credit. This project aim is reducing losses at less than 20% from aged structures and boosts the capacity for the future projected demands -Example: New Kosovo Power plant and its investors insured their interest demanding the 0,43m3/s for the operation of the new plant and Ibar Lepenac would be accountable to deliver (credible source). To evaluate the consequences of this project in Belgrade-Pristina relationship we have to look water volume balance calculations given in Figure 2 that represent current mass volume balance  and Figure 3, that presents water volume projected after the project completion.

Figure 2. Current figures – water distribution/production at balancing reservoir Pridvorica

Current discharge rate from balancing Reservoir Lake of Pridvorica is 3,7m3/second (location source data) and never below 3.5m3/second. Ibar Lepenac company does not report this figure instead they are presenting 60million m3/year production rate? What happens with undocumented volume is unknown variable and since in Ibar Lepenac company 100% production comes from Serbian community area (information base) and 100% of shares own by GoK and revenues stays there and since there is no a single Serbian member in a Board or any executive position, the answer to this question would be for a Serbian researcher difficult to find.

Figure 3. Projected water distribution – WB Ibar Lepenac Project

Additionally, in Village of D. Varage there is another balancing reservoir and discharge to the Trepca facility at the rate of 1m3/s. Trepca is not using this volume anymore but many irrigation and fish farms near Mitrovica were built on this resource, Most of this volume could be considered consumption neutral.

Total water volume losses in the Ibar river would  drop from today 57,14% of water intake to the 33,8% of the intake calculating the total loss of fresh water balance to Serbia 231,5 million m3/year. That exact volume or  64,2% of water intake  would be diverted for Kosovo’s withdrawal needs. Some portion of that would come back polluted from the discharge points of industries in Sitnica basin but most of it would evaporate.

This is significant impact and opportunity cost for Serbia. Any activities on the implementation must be a subject of the agreement of the riparian countries under the UNECE convention.

Option 2. Kosovo – Construction of the emergency reservoir Mijalici Lake / Likelihood – LOW.

There are several propositions in Kosovo Water supply policies but most severe example is a proposition to build emergency water reservoir Mijalici Lake near Priluzje in municipality of Vucitrn in volume 3,7 million m3. The Lake purpose is to increase the supply and to shave the peak in demand for water supply for Thermal Plants and agricultural use. The feasibility study is made in 2016 with the data and set benchmarks that are alarming and pose violation of the UNECE convention. The report states that 6.5 m3/s capacity in canal Ibar Lepenac is attainable and neglecting the interest of Serbia in losses of the water balance (as mentioned in Option 1).

Figure 4. Diverting Sitnica River to Mijalici Lake

More worrying, the paper presents that maximum capacity of the canal of 22m3 would be necessary to cater future demand projections but , where to find that much water? To compensate missing volume one can come to a conclusion that only available option is Sitnica River full volume and here I have to present my data mining conclusions or educational assessment:

Only attainable option for water needs is to divert Sitnica River in volume of 3-15m3 m3/s when needed by DO2 Ibar Lepenac canal to feed the Mijalici Lake leaving the 0.5 or 0,6 m3/s flow in Ibar river for ecological purposes. Loss of total 22m3/s of water in Ibar River basin would be major impairment for the Serbian communities in Kosovo North and Republic of Serbia in a form of environmental Injustice. There would be a significant loss in water volume for Serbia surface and ground waters as well that would be also UNECE convention and EU Groundwater Directive (DIRECTIVE 2006/118/EC) violation. If GoK would pursuit this option with the solid investment, the extreme reaction of Serbia would be expected.

Figure 5 Mijalici Lake, near village of Priluzje (ESIAF 2016)

Most disturbing and alarming elements of this report are:

  1. This WB paper states –Based on the Country Environmental Analysis of Kosovo (World Bank, 2012), some elements of national legislation, also aligned with the EU policies. One should not be an expert to say that the paper itself is in direct violation of the DIRECTIVE 2000/60/EC and UNECE Helsinki 1992 convention. It is also in conflict the WB document from 2013 clearly stating that building of any future balancing reservoir could trigger notice and approval from riparian states on significant investments.
  2. Action like this (option 1 and 2) unilateral and damaging to the interest of riparian country under the UNECE convention and EC directives. Considering that the opportunity cost would be solely on Republic of Serbia, it is reasonable to expect reaction of Serbia in exploiting the options that would compensate those losses.

To conclude Kosovo’s option on this matter one important fact should not be neglected. Loan and construction of the Lake of Gazivode facilities was insured with the WB credit that Serbia is liable for upon the succession settlement with the other former SFRY republics. In case of the final Belgrade Pristina any solution over the ownership on Lake of Gazivode facilities it is reasonable to expect that cost of investment as well as many other cases in Kosovo should be used in to the account.

Option 3. Serbia – Ibar River water use and discharge in Serbia / Likelihood – LOW 

Serbia invested too little in development of Raska and neighboring districts, but that is about to change due to the sensitive aspects of those districts (Sandzak hotspot). Infrastructure is poor, and energy and water resources are scarce to cater the needs of investments. Where to find necessary water volume: -within the boundaries of the municipalities Tutin and Novi Pazar in the Lake of Gazivode! Water table of the Lake is on 200m higher altitude than Novi Pazar Town with the proximity less than 18km and those facts derivatives could draw some conclusions what could be possible right now.

But let us go wild in predictions and use the maximum volume of water or energy outputs.

Some reports indicate that the water inflow to the Lake of Gazivode is 350 million m3. Let us to be more conservative and use the more moderated available data. Hydrology reports are stating that Ibar river minimum water balance at the Montenegro Serbian border is no less than 5,6m3/s  (Hydrology station Bac Montenegro) at the elevation 820m above the sea level. Intersection of the Raska River that passes trough Novi Pazar a tributary to Ibar River in Raska town is at the elevation of 400m above the sea level.

Figure 6. Hydro energy available from Ibar Serbian Montenegro border to Raska town

Maximum Energy output of this water volume at this difference in altitude is given in figure 6 and with the 50% of efficiency of turbines (due to the losses in water volume trough withdrawals that would be necessary), the total minimum power production outut could be 90,2 GWh/year. The power output can easily be doubled if we would use some real data or more optimistic hydrology projections if Serbia intends to use the water resource within its undisputed boundaries. To compare, hydro plant Lake of Gazivode highest power output in one year was 105 GWh.

The consequence would be that the Lake of Gazivode would have a shortage in intake for a minimum of 160 million m3 of water annually or minimum of 43% water volume in it but like the power output, figure can only be higher. Be advised that if Lake of Gazivode Reservoir drops under 200 million m3, power production would not be attainable but water use could be still available but all the projections motioned in the Kosovo options have to be revised.

Option 3 and 4
Figure 7. Options 3 and 4 ilustrations

Option 4. Serbia – Power production and reversible water supply system to Pester highlands / Likelihood – HIGH  

As stated, option 3 is an extreme speculation but plausible if the dispute Belgrade Pristina would persist in this century. One real option that is under the debate is that Serbia could offer investment concessions for small hydro plants from Bac (Montenegro border) to Ribarice (where the river meets the Lake of Gazivode). With the available elevation of 140m and 5m3/s with volume, the power output could be 6MW or 52GWh/year. However, this type of project would not have any effect on the Gazivode lake water table since hydro plants are water consumption neutral. But, consider this: -There is opportunity and knowhow (reversible system Bajna Basta and Lake of Perucac) that energy production with low capital cost power transmission lines could be used to pump some portion of water from higher elevation to town of Tutin with the construction of small balancing reservoir (similar to Mijalici Lake in option 2). This would help this district to shave the peaks in water consumption of the municipalities Tutin and Novi Pazar. That approach would reduce capital costs of power transmitting and insure power consumption to any investor. It would require some balancing water portion from upper altitude that would be pumped with the energy produced in hydro power turbines downstream. If this option would be attractive to Serbia or investors in near future, the effect for the lake of Gazivode water reserves could be significant.

Under any scenario where Serbia is deprived any rights over Lake of Gazivode, Serbia cannot be denied parental rights to use the resource on their own territory. As the result, Kosovo could lose the capacity to grow due to the shortages in water supply.

My personal opinion is that any of those options should not be in interest of Kosovo or Serbia but in the environment of Belgrade – Pristina dispute nature, one should take in to the account future uncertainty with the added issues followed by the climate change and its consequences. For this reason, all options have to be considered and none neglected.

For all presented options capital costs are significant and would not be possible without the state intervention. However, considering that the Serbia is in the control of the water source, the investment risks are marginal in Serbia while potential investor’s in Kosovo options must consider future actions of Serbia and request some risky guaranties from GoK.

Option 5 Kosovo – Serbia. Attaining sustainability / Likelihood – MUST

All examples above pose a real and a credible threat to the other party: -One player inducing the water shortage to the other and regardless to the projected benefits, I personally believe that both parties in the absence of the integrated water management would lose! Cooperation instead of control has not been exercised in this region but in this case it is necessary now more than ever. There is no better formula to compel nations and people to cooperate than by the market forces but there is a trick behind this. The shared nature of the resource (water) has to be acknowledged and in order to reconcile the interest the share distribution has to reflect the objectives:

  • Peace and stability,
  • Common interest and
  • Sustainable water use!

All this would not be possible if Serbia would not be included in the equation, in fact it is in best interest of Kosovo that Serbia would have the equal or full rights over the Lake of Gazivode.

Market forces in attaining peace, would it be even possible?

A question -What if this resource that is a potential conflict trigger could be at the same time perfect opportunity for the market base solution for reconciliation? In Lake of Gazivode issue there is a hidden value, we have a perfect allocation of resources with the single buyer and single seller. It is a rare case where market equilibrium could be exercised in service of peace. If we see it through those lenses, the agreement between Pristina and Belgrade could be acquired trough trade at the minimum political costs of all players.

Instead of the monopoly in supply and demand, let us split it and compel actors on cooperation to develop integrated water management mechanism that would not cover only water supply, but include also water quality, waste management (landfill site Mostina in Rozaje, discharge point into Ibar River basin). Opportunities are endless to use the reservoir for the recreational and agriculture use (fisheries and floating fish farms), allow construction on the lakeshore with the strict scrutiny building codes on the environmental impacts and banning/eliminating pollution discharge point sources with the technological enforcement (closed septic tanks). All this activities would generate revenues, generate profits and local and national GDP and would be a powerful force in democratic processes.

Appropriate water quotas at the appropriate price followed by the attainable goals in effluent limitation on pollution point source discharges could shift the region toward sustainable future. Invisible hand of the market could produce more efficiency and more responsible use of the resource so much needed in this region and it would be significant asset in fighting Climate Change.

Prove me wrong that the ownership of Serbians from Kosovo trough Association or the Republic of Serbia would not be beneficial to insure sustainable water supply for Kosovo future needs. I’m still looking for the opposition to my argument.


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