Eurasianet says a senior government official in Kazakhstan has warned that neighboring Kyrgyzstan is struggling to restore viable water levels at its Toktogul reservoir, which is the source of 40 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s domestically generated electrical power..

Failure to restore depleted water supplies at Toktogul may spell trouble for farming downstream in Kazakhstan.

Kazakh Energy Minister Bolat Akchulakov told journalists on January 14 that the difficulty in filling the reservoir had arisen as a result of water discharges and because “natural conditions” made it impossible to collect the amount of water required.

Kyrgyz officials have reportedly been signaling the possibility of this eventuality since last year.  In October, Kyrgyz Deputy Energy Minister Taalaibek Ibrayev said at a regional conference that it was imperative that Toktogul be allowed to fill in 2022 and he warned that this requirement would have consequences for neighbors.

Toktogul can hold up to 19.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water.  At 5.5 bcm, the level is considered “dead” – too low to produce electricity. The reservoir currently contains 8.6 bcm of water, down from 10.1 bcm in mid-February 2021, according to Eurasianet.  If the water level drops under 6 bcm, the turbines at the Toktogul HPP will stop turning.

As things stand, it looks all but impossible that Kyrgyzstan will be able to live up to its commitments to Kazakhstan.

Under a March 2021 deal, Kazakhstan reportedly agreed to supply Kyrgyzstan with 900 million kilowatt hours of electricity. In addition to assuring a reliable flow of water, Kyrgyzstan pledged to send 300 million kilowatt hours of hydro-generated power back to Kazakhstan over three-year period running up to 2023.

Kazakh energy minister reportedly suggested, notwithstanding the concerns registered by Kyrgyzstan, that Kazakhstan expect this deal to be respected.

The prospect of Kyrgyzstan being unable to use Toktogul to generate the required amounts of electricity threatens to worsen an existing power deficit crisis.

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan both asked Kyrgyzstan to release more water during the 2021 growing season, even though officials in all three countries knew this could leave levels at the Toktogul Reservoir critically low.

So, in return for the extra water, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan agreed to supply electricity to Kyrgyzstan so the HPP would not have to function at full capacity and water could accumulate in the reservoir before next spring.  But water is not accumulating fast enough.

Toktogul Reservoir is the largest of the reservoirs on the path of the Naryn River, a northern tributary of the Syr Darya.  The reservoir has total capacity of 19.5 cubic kilometers, of which 14 cubic kilometers is active capacity. Its length is 65 kilometers and its surface area is 284.3 square kilometers.  The maximal depth of the reservoir is 120 meters.