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Chloride collapse: Why Ukraine could be left without drinking water

What caused the chloride deficit, why is it dangerous for the country, is there an alternative to it and what are the authorities doing in connection with this?
13:55, 18 July 2018

Open source

Ukraine in the coming weeks can expect a total suspension of drinking water supply. We have practically nothing to disinfect it with - the reserves of chlorine are almost exhausted. How real is the paralysis of the purification systems, which cities will take the first blow and whether there are chances to avoid the catastrophe? We will try to analyze.

Why do we need chloride for water treatment?

Chloride is a substance produced from hydrochloric acid and gas. Water treatment plants use it around the clock in water treatment technology. Dirty water stays in the filters for 24 hours. If we do not add chloride, the bacteria harmful to human life and health will begin to reproduce there.

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What caused the chloride deficit in Ukraine?

On June 15, Dniproazot chemicals company producing liquid chlorine (It belongs to Privat group of billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky) has suspended its work for indefinite time. The official reason is growing prices foe gas. There is also an unofficial version: owners are resorting to political blackmail. By the way, Dniproazot for the recent years became de-facto a monopolist in this sector. In Ukraine, there is no other enterprise producing this compound so important for water disinfection.

The government promised to interfere with the situation. Security Council of Ukraine, as well as Vice Prime Minister Hennadiy Zubko and emergency operations center have gotten involved. However, for now the chloride problem still remains unresolved.

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It is forbidden to provide water, which was not treated to the houses. That is why 2/3 of Ukrainians using water from the water supply system will be hostages in this situation.

Which cities and when might be left without water?

There is already an emergency in Dnipro city and the nearby towns. On the eve, it became known that chloride supplies there would last till 9:00 of July 17.  

In Mykolaiv on July 16, the water pressure was turned down in both daytime and at night. The chloride supply will be enough for 7 days at most. However, the authorities claim that they have found a solution, but it is a “state secret,”

Kharkiv may end up without water this Saturday, on July 21.

Kyiv has chloride supplies enough for one month, - so it should last until mid-August.

Zhytomyr has supplies for 20 days. The city is trying to replace chloride with sodium hypochlorite from sodium salt. The situation is rather critical.

In Cherkasy, the supplies will last until the end of July. In Zaporizhia region, depending on the town, it’s from 5-7 days to September.

Related: Water supply in Avdiivka restored

What is Dniproazot saying?

The enterprise is ready to renew chloride production on condition of raising its cost.  The relevant appeal was sent to the Antimonopoly Committee on July 2. In case of a positive conclusion, the company will start to conclude contracts for the supply of the relevant products. It is noted that the equipment for the production of chloride is serviceable and is ready for use even now.

At the same time, Dniproazot is insisting that the new price for chlorine should match the average for 2018 in the ProZorro system.

What will be the price for chloride?

According to Olga Babiy, the vice president of Ukrainian association of water-pumping enterprises, Dniproazot intends to increase the price on chlorine three-fold.

“The market average price used to be $650 - #770 for a ton of liquid chlorine, now it shall be $1600 - $2115 depending on logistics.

Dniproazot applied to antimonopoly committee to be allowed to set the price like that, though it is not so simple because Dniproazot is not officially announced a monopolist (though “de facto” they are).

The anti-monopoly committee shall consider the application by Dniproazot and deliver their opinion. We don’t know whether it is going to be positive or negative,” she said in her interview to Hromadske.

How authorities react?

On July 13, Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman assured that Ukraine will be provided with chloride for disinfection of drinking water despite the suspense of Dniproazot. He underlined that the plant should by gas at market prices, as the rest of Ukraine’s industry.

“Talking about chlorine, I authorized Gennadiy Zubko, the vice prime minister, to address the issue on the system level. And the plan he provided, which we approved, and this plan states that Ukraine shall have chlorine,” Groysman underlined.

Related: Donetsk water filtering plant shut down due to shelling

What is the problem with chloride supplies from abroad?

Ukraine has already started negotiations on chloride import from Romania, Poland, Slovakia and Kazakhstan. However, it is not likely this issue can be solved quickly. Chloride is an explosive substance. Many documents are needed for its transportation and import. It can take a few weeks.

In addition, not all Ukrainian cities can accept it in containers. For Kyiv and Kropyvnytsky, it should be in railroad tankers.

At the same time, it is complicated to transport chloride from Europe in railroad tankers because of railroad mismatch.

Is there an alternative to liquid chlorine?

There are several ways to cleanse and disinfect water. One of them (and the cheapest) is to use liquid chloride. Ukraine’s water treatment plants mostly use it.

Close to liquid chloride is sodium hypochlorite produced from sodium salt. In best case scenario, we might need a year.

There is no alternative for the enterprises supplying water from surface sources. And it is mostly the big cities.

Related: Russian presence in Ukrainian inland waterways: Ukraine’s security chokepoint

What’s next?

Water treatment plants have an emergency mode. In case of the lack of chloride, the cities switch to the hourly water supply. According to the head of Kyiv city council budget commission Olha Babiy, this is a very complex transfer for the majority of cities: a minimum of 12 hours and huge money is needed.

“Some cities have chloride enough for 17 days, some – for 20,” she said on July 16.

For today, country’s chloride remains are distributed among the water plants. Romanian chloride is arriving in Ukraine.

The cities fear that imported chloride will be twice as expensive than the one produced by Dniproazot. And Dniproazot will raise the price too (if it agrees with Anti-Monopoly Committee). However, water plants association is saying that urgent launch of Dniproazot is the only solution.

Considering the all mentioned above, there are all chances that Ukraine’s water treatment enterprises can soon touch the painful issue of tariffs change. Of course, if they agree before all chloride runs up in the country.

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