Cablegate: Reversing Vladivostok's Water Quality Decline

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R 090351Z OCT 07





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1. (U) Summary. A recent conference in Vladivostok highlighted
the seriousness of pollution in the waters off the city's
picturesque coastline. Untreated sewage, a lack of pollution
controls, and unchecked dumping not only threaten the region's
unique wildlife but also its human inhabitants. The pollution
is bad, but the conference demonstrated that local authorities
are aware of the problem and searching for ways to remedy it.
End summary.

2. (U) Last week's Marine Ecology 2007 Clean Port Conference
highlighted the vast environmental challenges facing Vladivostok
but also showed the depth of support for taking action. A year
ago the director of the Sea Protection Institute of
Vladivostok's Maritime State University declared the city the
"most polluted port in the Russian Far East." Sewage has been
mostly untreated for the last 35 years, a one-million-ton
garbage dump smoldering on the shoreline outside of the city
leaches contaminants into the sea, industry continues to dump
heavy metals and other contaminants into regional waters, and
shipping companies are not required to install pollution
controls on their vessels. Yet the high dive towers and swim
ladders dotting the city's shoreline are testament to
Vladivostok's once pristine waters. Even now, on particularly
beautiful summer days, residents frequently disregard the "no
swimming" signs and take the plunge.

3. (U) The pollution endangers not only humans, but southern
Primorye's unique environment as well. The waters around
Vladivostok are spawning grounds for salmon, pollock and
herring, and the coastline hosts 13 sea bird colonies. As many
as 100 species in the area are endangered, including 48 that are
unique to Primorye, according to Greenpeace.

4. (U) Russian, Japanese, American, Norwegian, and South Korean
experts presented over 90 reports at the conference. Scientists
said Vladivostok's problems are two-fold: inadequate
infrastructure and insufficient enforcement. They posited that
Vladivostok's Golden Horn Bay could again be made safe for
swimming, but only with the investment of hundreds of millions
of rubles and the creation of a single agency responsible for
water quality. The conclusions of the conference will not be
published for another month, but one paper will suggest that an
investment of 30 million rubles per year will significantly
improve the health of the bay by the year 2012 -- in time for
the APEC summit in Vladivostok.

5. (U) Vladivostok's city official say they are aware of the
continuing damage that untreated pollution is doing to the
environment -- and also the city's potential as a tourist
destination. In an earlier conversation with CG, they said that
with federal help they are working to install new waste
treatment centers, which should come online soon if they can
solve the "not in my backyard" problems. But they acknowledged
that one major source of marine pollution, the flow of untreated
run-off from the city's streets into the ocean, remains beyond
their means to remedy. This run-off is particularly dangerous
because it includes chemicals released by crumbling asphalt and
other ground pollutants that never make it into the city's
sewage system and so cannot be treated, even once treatment
centers are running. In order to solve the problem, Vladivostok
requires an effective means of channeling surface run-off into
the sewage system -- a massive undertaking that would require
redesigning many of the city's streets.

6. (U) To address the challenge, the conference program included
a number of roundtables, including: creation of coastal
conservation areas, environmental monitoring, coping with
invasive species, oil spill prevention, environmentally-friendly
technologies, recycling, resource management, industrial impacts
on marine biota, and environmental education. The conference
also featured booths for maritime and environmental products, a
World Wildlife education booth, and a Foreign Commercial Service
(FCS) catalog show highlighting American firms involved in waste
management and environmental technology. These firms included
Applied Science Associates (analysis of marine, freshwater, air,
and land resources); CMC Rescue (specialized rescue equipment);
Filtra-Systems (industrial filtration and separation products);
Liquid Waste Technology, LLC (dredges and remote control pumps);
and SCIENCO/FAST Systems, Inc. (technologies for water
treatment, oil/water separation, and reverse osmosis).

7. (U) The conference was sponsored by the Sea Protection
Institute, Maritime State University, Far Eastern State
Technical University, UNESCO, the Russian Academy of Science,
World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the All Russian Scientific and
Research Institute of Nature Protection, and the Primorskiy Kray
Administration. Participants included representatives from some
major companies that could make a huge impact, for better or

VLADIVOSTO 00000113 002.2 OF 002

worse, on the environment, including Rosneft, Sakhalin Energy
and Exxon. CG gave welcoming remarks and a television interview
congratulating the organizers and commenting that a clean
environment is not only a quality of life issue, but is good
business as well.

8. (U) Pollution problems along Russia's Pacific coast are not
restricted to Vladivostok. The rich fishing grounds off the
coast of scenic Kamchatka may become a new environmental
battleground as testing is revealing the presence of significant
offshore petroleum deposits in the region. World Wildlife Fund
Kamchatka Director Laura Williams, in town to attend the Clean
Port conference,told CG and PolOff that future oil development
must be balanced with conservation of the region's environmental
resources, as well as preservation of Kamchatka's vital fishing
industry. She said that the salmon fishery in particular may be
threatened by future drilling, since the waters off the west
coast of Kamchatka are vital to young salmon.

9. (U) Comment: While new waste treatment plants, environmental
legislation, and enforcement are vital, the first step towards
improving Vladivostok's dangerous water quality may be
instilling a sense of environmental awareness and responsibility
in its citizenry. Many visitors to the city are struck by how
much litter there is on the streets. Small-scale clean-up
campaigns involving schoolchildren are already underway and are
an important step, but more must be done. That Vladivostok is
set in a picturesque bay is indisputable, but to attract
tourists, restore the fishery, and allow local residents to
fully enjoy their maritime environment will require a sustained
and expensive commitment from government leaders, industry,
shipping companies, and local residents and a recognition of
what a precious resource they have at their doorstep.

© Scoop Media

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