Water resources of Azerbaijan 1- Physiographic conditions
Republic of Azerbaijan is one of the countries in the South Caucasus and has a territory of 86,600 km2. The Republic borders with Russia in the north for 289 km along Samur River, 340 km with Georgia in the northwest, 766 km with Armenia in the west and southwest, 11 km with Turkey, and 618 km with Iran in the south. The length of its Caspian Sea coastline from the Astara River to Samur River is 825 km.
The range of elevation within the Republic varies from 4,480 m. in the Major Caucasus Mountains (Bazarduzu crest) to –26.0 m (Caspian Sea level). The average altitude of the area is 384 m with 18 per cent of the area below sea level, 39.5 per cent is between 0 and 500 m, 15.5 per cent is between 500 and 1,000 m., and 27 per cent is greater than 1,000 m. Sharp changes of altitudes due to the orographic structure of the Major and Minor Caucasus Mountains and the location of the Kur-Araz lowlands form the unique climate in the Republic. Climate conditions and relief of the area plays special role in formation of the water resources of the republic.
Physiographic conditions and different atmosphere circulations admit 8 types of air currents including continental, sea, arctic, tropical currents of air that formulates the climate of the Republic. The maximum annual precipitation falls in Lenkeran (1,600 to 1,800 mm.) and the minimum in Absheron (200 to 350 mm.). The maximum daily precipitation of 334 mm was observed at the Bilieser Station in 1955.
Eight out of 11 existing climate types including semi-desert, arid steppe and mountain tundra are present in the country. The annual average air temperature is approximately 14.6 0C in the Kur-Araz lowlands and 0 0C in the mountains. The absolute minimum temperature observed was –33.0 0C (in Julfa and Ordubad) and absolute maximum temperature of +46.0 0C was again observed in Julfa and Ordubad.
There are 8,359 rivers in the Republic and two of those (Kur and Araz Rivers) have a length of more than 500 km. Other 22 rivers have length of 101-500 km, 40 rivers have a length of 51 to 100 km, and 107 rivers have a length of 26 to 50 km. There are 5,141 rivers in the Kur River basin and 1,177 are of Araz River basin. The number of rivers that flow directly into the Caspian Sea together with their branches is 3,218. Common river network density is about 0.36 km/km2.
In the Caspian Sea basin, the rivers mainly relate to two areas:
• The Kur River basin rivers (right and left tributaries, including left side tributaries of Araz River), and
• The rivers flowing directly into Caspian Sea (Lenkeran region Rivers and rivers flowing through Major Caucasus Mountains northeast slope).
1-2-2- Transboundary Rivers
The main transboundary rivers of the Republic (21 rivers) are Kur, Araz, Qanykh (Alazan), Qabirli (Iori), Astara Rivers, and small rivers that flow through Armenia that are tributaries of Kur and Araz Rivers.
The Kur River, composing 64 per cent of South Caucasus, flows through the entire territory of Armenia, through 80 per cent area of Azerbaijan, and 52 per cent of Georgia. The total drainage area of the Kur River is 188,000 km2; the length is 1,515 km. with 906 km in the country. The Kur River annual average flow is 19.6 km3. The river has a full-flow regime and 47 to 58 per cent of Kur River’s annual flow is in spring. The largest water reservoir on Kur River is the Mingechevir Reservoir. The minimal water discharge in the Kur River was observed in Khuluf Station of 7.69 m3/s, the maximum water discharge was 2,720 m3/s at the same station and 2,680 m3/s at the Surra Station.
The Araz River, being the biggest branch of Kur River system, starts from Bingol Mountain range in Turkey and flows into Kur River near Sabirabad. Its length is 1,072 km and the area of the basin is 102,000 km2. The maximum water discharge was 2,910 m3/s (Garadonlu), and the minimum was 11.0 m3/s. The average annual flow of Araz River is 9.0 to 9.5 km3.
There are nearly 450 lakes with an area of 394 km2 in Azerbaijan of which ten have the surface area more than 5 km2. Some of the lakes are freshwater and others are saltwater lakes. The largest lake is Sarisu Lake located in the Kur-Araz lowlands with an area of 65.7 km2 and capacity of 59.1 Mm3. Jandargol Lake is located on the border with Georgia and has an area of 10.6 km2 and capacity of 51 Mm3.
The highest mountain lake is Tufangol Lake (3,277 m) located in Demiraparan River basin. Its area is 0.1 km2 and the capacity is 0.11 Mm3. The most picturesque and freshwater lake of Azerbaijan is Goy-Gol that was formed as a result of earthquake in the Agsu River at an elevation of 1,556 m in 1139. Others lakes (Maralgol, Zaligol, etc.) were also formed as a result of that earthquake. Goy-Gol is running water pond. The area is 0.79 km2 and the capacity is 24 Mm3. One of the lakes formed as a result of easy meandering of Kur River is stagnant at Hajiqabul Lake. The area is 84 km2, and average depth is 1.4 m, length is 4.2 km., the capacity is 12.1 Mm3
1-2-4- Water Reservoirs
There are more than 50 reservoirs in Azerbaijan and most of these were built for irrigation purposes. Tandem reservoir systems on Kur River include Mingechevir, Shamkir, Yenikend, and Varvara Reservoirs. The “Araz” water junction on the Araz River and the Sarsang Reservoir on the Tartar River also produce energy. The Jeyranbatan Reservoir supplies Baku and Sumqayit cities with potable water. Water to this reservoir comes through Samur-Absheron Canal from Samur River. The total amount of water taken from Samur River by this canal is estimated at 0.80 to 0.85 km3.
The total capacity of operating water reservoirs in the country is about 20.6 km3, the net storage volume is 12.4 km3, the total area is 877 km2, and the total capacity of hydroelectric power station (HPS) is 978,500 kilowatt.
Information on Water Reservoirs
Araz Water junction
2- Water Resources
2-1- Surface waters
The water resources of Azerbaijan are limited in comparison with other countries in the South Caucasus and are only 15 per cent of the all water resources in the region. Water per area and per capita in Azerbaijan is 7.7 and 8.3 times less than in Georgia and 2.2 and 1.7 times less than in Armenia, respectively.
From the water supply view point, the Republic is considered to be one of the driest regions of the world with approximately 100,000 m3/year of water per km2, and the annual amount of water per person is 950 to 1,000 m3/year. The total of water resources of the republic varies from 28.5 to 30.5 km3. The number is further reduced in arid years to approximately 27.0 and 22.6 km3. The water resources of the Republic are shared unequally. The lack of water is not observed in the Sheki-Zaqatala and Khachmaz-Kelbejer mountain areas, while in the Qobustan-Absheron and Kur-Araz lowlands where irrigation is developed, this problem exists as about 1.42 Mha of agricultural lands in the Republic requires irrigation.
The total water resources consist of surface and underground waters. The surface waters are rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and glaciers. About 67 to 70 per cent (19.0 to 20.5 km3) of water resources are formed in transboundary, and 9.5 to 10 km3 in mainly internal rivers. The water resources in arid years are reduced further to 27.0 and 22.6 km3. Accordingly 17.1 and 14.3 km3 of these waters belong to transboundary rivers.
The annual water reserves of rivers that flow directly into the Caspian Sea (without the Samur River) is 2.2 to 2.5 km3, of which 1.0 to 1.1 km3 belong to Major Caucasus Mountains north-east Slope Rivers and 1.2 to 1.4 km3 to Lenkaran Region rivers. The water resources of internal rivers of Kur basin make up 7.5 to 7.8 km3.
The water resources of Kur and Araz rivers at the territories of neighboring countries are decreased by about 20% as result of water intake. This also leads increasing of water deficit in the country (About 4 to 6 km3 annually) and creates problem to provide water demands in Azerbaijan.
Main glacier territories in Azerbaijan are located in Gusar River basin in Major Caucasus Mountains. There are nine glaciers having an area of 3.24 km2 and the reserve of glaciers is approximately 0.08 km3.
Transboundary Rivers Flowing into Azerbaijan
Transboundary Flow (km3)
Local Flow (km3)
Kur (before Araz)
2-2- Underground water
Underground water is considered to be one of the most important natural resources in Azerbaijan. Due to the differences in chemical composition, they fall into several types, such as service water, drinkable, medical waters, and waters used in various industrial sectors.
High heat energy underground waters which temperature varies in the range from 80 to 115 C have been discovered in our country. Different types of natural environment have caused various origins of water type and their spatial distribution.
Mesozoic-Quaternary sedimentary deposits of various lithology, pervasive within the plain areas contain tremendous resources of artesian and ground waters used for every day needs and drinking. Ground waters are usually met within Quaternary deposits throughout the country. Due to active water exchange observed within the foothill areas, those waters occur at relatively deeper ranges. Those water mineralization measures 1gr/l. and their chemical composition is referred to the calcium-hydrocarbonate type. Waterhead artesian basins have been discovered under inclined plain areas encased within Quaternary, Absheron, and Akchagil deposits within Ganja, Gazah, Guba-Khachmas, Karabakh, Shirvan zones, as well as within Sarmatian deposits in Nakhchivan AR. Those waters mineralization measures about 1gr/l, and chemical composition is referred to as calcium-hydrocarbonate, and therefore they are used to supply people needs in towns and villages, and for service purposes.
Over 1000cold and thermal springs have been discovered in Azerbaijan Republic. Several sanatoriums (Istisu, Gala-alty, Shih spit, Surakhany) and mineral water plants (Istisu, Sirab, Badamly, Vayhir etc) have been built up around those water springs. Mineral water's gas composition in Republic varies from carbon dioxide, to hydrogen sulphide, to methane, to nitrogen and radon.
Mineral waters distribution due to their gas composition is as follows: mineral waters with carbon dioxide gases were encountered within both Minor Caucasus (Msimsu, Shirlan, Turshsu) and Nakhchivan AR (Sirab, Badamly, etc), with hydrogen sulphide gases within Absheron Peninsula (Surakhany, Shih spit), Talish zone (Istisu) as well as within Great Caucasus southeast foothills (Chukhuryurd, Alty-aghach), nitrogen waters have been discovered within Astara-Lancaran (Meshasu), Salyan (Babazanan), and Masally (Arkivan) regions.
Mineral waters containing radon gases have been discovered within Kalbajar (Baghirsag) and in Nakhchivan AR (Gahab). Mineral composition of those waters contains basically potassium, sodium, calcium, and hydrocarbonate, sulphur, chlorine anions. Those waters temperature varies in the range from 4 to 65 C.
There are commercial value iodium-bromium water reserves within Absheron Peninsula, Neftchala, and Khilly which are used to produce such chemical elements as iodium, bromium and their salt compounds.
In summary, the water resources of Azerbaijan are distributed as follows:
• River waters: 28.5 to 30.5 km3 of which 9.5 to 10.0 km3 belong to internal rivers and rivers flowing into the Caspian Sea
• Freshwater lakes: 0.03 to 0.05 km3
• Water reservoirs: full capacity of 20.6 km3 and a useful capacity of 12.4 km3
• Exploitation capacity of underground waters: 8.0 to 9.0 km3
• Water resources of glaciers: 0.080 to 0.085 km3
3- Quality & pollution of water
The quality of the water in the rivers of Azerbaijan (such as Kur, Araz and other transboundary rivers) is determined mainly from the neighboring countries. According to the data of corresponding agencies of the three countries, in 2000 468 Mm3 of wastewater was discharged into rivers in the Kur River basin of which 227 Mm3 (51%) are from Georgia, 219 Mm3 (46%) are from Armenia and only 12 Mm3 (3%) are from Azerbaijan. It is noted that in 1992, these discharges averaged 35 to 55 per cent more than in 2000. Because of the large discharge of wastewater into the Kur River and its transboundary tributaries from the neighboring countries, the waters of these rivers enter into the territory of the Republic contaminated with nitric compounds, phenols, oil products, metals, and other chemical compounds.
Taking into account above information and that 75 per cent of the total water used in all sectors of the economy fall to the share of the Kur River and its tributaries, the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of the Azerbaijan Republic, National Monitoring Department, is monitoring the quality of surface waters of the country including transboundary rivers.
It has been observed that a number of indices of the quality of water in the boundary area of the Kur River with Georgia (second Shykhly point) regularly exceed the permissible amount (PA) of these parameters. Thus, the amount of phenols exceeds the PA 8 to 12 times, metals 8 to 14 times, sulfates 1 to 2 times, and oil products 2 to 3 times.
The Araz River exerts considerable influence on the quality of waters of the Kur River, especially on the mineralization. The Araz River is seriously contaminated in Armenia (in the tributaries of Razdan, Agarak, and Okhchuchay Rivers). Thus, below the Araz River, the mineralization of waters of the Kur River increases to a level of 800 to 1200 mg/l. It is double in the upper part of the river from Mingechevir Reservoir and 35 to 50 per cent higher in the Araz River. High amounts of phenols, metals, sulfates (correspondingly 13, 9 and 6 times the PA) is observed in the river water. The value of mineralization (1,130 mg/l) exceeds the standard by 25 to 30 per cent.
The Ganykh (Alazan) River is also one of the transboundary rivers influenced by contamination in Georgia. For example, the amount of phenols exceeds the standard 5 to 7 times, metals 6 to 8 times, and oil products 2 to 3 times in the river water.
The Agstafachay River is one of the tributaries of the Kur River and exerts a high influence of contamination in Armenia. In the boundary area of the Agstafachay River with Armenia, the amount of phenols exceeds the norm 9 times, metals 5 to 8 times, oil products 3 to 4 times, and sulfates 2 times. 4- Management of water resources
Water legislation and legislation on environment anticipates complex of legislative enactments and legal standards on protection of water resources and water objects (Water Code of the Azerbaijan Republic, Chapter 14, pages 81-95), that is to say protection of surface and underground waters from pollution, drying up, other fatal impacts. In addition, the Government of the Republic approved a number of decisions, defining rules of state monitoring, exploitation, and protection of water objects. “Law on Water Supply and Sewage” defines specific measures and standards of sanitary supervision.
The Water Code of the Republic envisages measures and provides regulations for pollution monitoring. According to the water legislation and legislation on environmental protection, the monitoring of water sources is being implemented by the Monitoring Service Department of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of the Azerbaijan.
4-1- Water tariffs
The utilization of water resources in Azerbaijan is to be paid through a tariff structure. This is envisaged in accordance with the water legislation of the Republic. Tariffs on utilization of surface and underground water resources are defined by the Government of the country for industrial, hydroelectric, irrigation needs, municipal economy, drinking water supply, and wastewater service.
4-2- Water licensing
In accordance to the water legislation of Azerbaijan, special water utilization has to be licensed. The procedure is defined by the Cabinet of Ministers of the Azerbaijan Republic. License for the utilization of water sources is granted by the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, State Committee on Melioration and Irrigation, “Absheron” Stock Company, and the State Committee on Architecture and Construction. Utilization of transboundary water sources of the country is in accordance with the requirements of international and intergovernmental agreements.
4-3- Water legislation
Water area of Azerbaijan is regulated in compliance with laws and legislative acts. Main laws and legislative acts are: Water Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan (in effect since March 17, 1998), Law on Melioration and Irrigation (September 26, 1996), Law on Water Supply and Sewage (January 31, 2000), Law on Hydrometeorological Activity (August 25, 1998), and the Law on Environmental Protection (August 10, 1999).
4-4- International agreements
Some of the international agreements in effect in Azerbaijan are as follows:
• Agreement on Protection and Utilization of transboundary currents and international lakes (Helsinki ratified in 2000)
• Protocol on Water and health to the Agreement on Protection and Utilization of transboundary currents and international lakes (ratified in 2002)
• Agreement on international meteorological organization and Azerbaijan becoming a member of WMO (1993)
• Memorandum of Understanding among the Ministry of Environment of Georgia and the State Committee for Ecology and Natural Resources of Azerbaijan Republic on Collaboration in the Development and Implementation of the Pilot Project On Monitoring and Assessment in the Mtkvari/Kura River Basin (1997)
• Agreement between the Governments of Georgia and Azerbaijan Republic on Collaboration in the Environmental Protection
• The Protocol on Results of Negotiation between the Governmental Delegations of Georgia and Republic of Azerbaijan on Water Resources Usage
• UN framework agreements on Climate Change (ratified in 1995)
• Kyoto Protocol on Amendments to the UN framework agreement on Climate Change (ratified in 2001).