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Tajikistan can be divided into four major river basin groups (Table 2):
- Amu Darya river basin: About 76 percent of the flow of the Amu Darya river is generated in Tajikistan. The Panj river, the largest tributary of the Amu Darya river originates in the Pamir mountainous ranges and forms the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan for almost its entire length flowing from east to west. The Bartang river is the first large tributary of the Panj river. Before the confluence with the Vakhsh river, the annual average flow of the Panj river is 33.4 km3/year. During the Soviet era, based on an agreement in 1946, entitled Afghanistan use of up to 9 km3/year of water from the Panj river. The Vakhsh river is the largest river in Tajikistan, crossing the country from the northeast to the southwest. Originating in Kyrgyzstan, where it is called the Kyzyl Suu river, it enters Tajikistan, where it is called the Surkhob river. After the confluence of the Surkhob and Obikhingob rivers, it becomes the Vakhsh river. Its catchment area lies in the highest part of Tajikistan, at over 3 500 m. After the confluence of the Vakhsh and Panj rivers, at the border with Afghanistan, it becomes the Amu Darya river. The Kofarnihon river is another large tributary of the Amu Darya river. Originating in Tajikistan, it becomes the border between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan for several tens of kilometres, then it re-enters Tajikistan, after which it flows into the Amu Darya river, which is about 36 km downstream of the confluence of the Panj and Vakhsh rivers, at the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. About 65 km further downstream, the Amu Darya leaves the Tajikistan border to become the border between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. The Surkhandarya river also originates in Tajikistan, then enters Uzbekistan and joins the Amu Darya river at the border between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. The Zeravshan river originates between the mountain ranges of Zeravshan and Gissar in Tajikistan, and the total flow generated within Tajikistan is an estimated 3.09 km3/year. The river then enters Uzbekistan and joins the Amu Darya river at the border between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. However, while the Zeravshan river was once the largest tributary of the Amu Darya river, before it began to be tapped to irrigate land in Uzbekistan, the flow no longer reaches the city of Bukhara in Uzbekistan. Total water generated within Tajikistan in the Amu Darya river basin is an estimated 59.45 km3/year.
- Syr Darya river basin: The northwest of the country forms part of the Syr Darya basin. Only 1 percent of the total flow of the Syr Darya river is generated within Tajikistan by the shallow rivers Khodzhabakirgan, Isfara and Isfana, with a total flow of 1.01 km3/year.
- In the extreme northeast of the country a small river, the Marcansy, drains towards China. No figures on flows are available.
- Small closed basins: There are a few small closed basins, such as those formed by the small Kattasoy and Basmandasoy rivers, but the annual flow is negligible compared to the total renewable flow generated in Tajikistan.
Total internal renewable surface water resources (IRSWR) are an estimated 60.46 km3/year (Table 2). During the Soviet period, water resources were shared among the five Central Asia republics based on master plans for water resources development in the Amu Darya and Syr Darya river basins. With the establishment of the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination (ICWC) in 1992, the newly independent states prepared a regional water strategy (Agreement of 18 February 1992), but continued to respect existing principles until the adoption of a new water-sharing agreement. Surface water resources allocated to Tajikistan are thus calculated every year, depending on existing flows. On average, however, incoming surface water resources that are available to Tajikistan are thought to be 13.31 km3/year (1.51 Amu Darya and 11.8 Syr Darya). Considering an outflow of 54.86 km3/year, secured by agreements, this means that the total renewable surface water resources (TRSWR) for Tajikistan are18.91 km3/year (60.46+13.31-54.86) (Table 2).
Internally generated renewable groundwater resources are an estimated 6 km3/year, of which 3 km3/year overlap with surface water resources. In 1999, the portion of groundwater resources for which abstraction equipment exists was an estimated 2.2 km3/year.
Tajikistan’s total actual renewable water resources (TARWR) may thus be estimated at 21.91 km3/year (Table 2 and Table 3).
In 1994, the return flow within Tajikistan amounted to 4.36 km3/year, including 3.78 km3/year of collector-drainage flow from irrigation and about 0.58 km3/year of municipal and industrial wastewater. The main portion of the return flow, about 3.94 km3/year, flowed back to rivers, of which 2.85 km3 into the Amu Darya river and 1.09 km3 into the Syr Darya river. Around 0.35 km3/year (8 percent of total return water) were directly used for irrigation. The remaining 0.06 km3/year of return flow were directed to natural depressions. Since 2000, the average return flow has decreased to 3.5 km3/year, because water intake from rivers for irrigation and other water sector needs has been reduced. The main portion of the return flow, about 3 km3/year, flows back to the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers. Around 0.3 km3/year is directly reused for irrigation. In 2008, wastewater produced accounted for 92 million m3 of which 89 million m3 were treated.
There are 1 300 natural lakes in Tajikistan with a total water surface area of 705 km2 and a total capacity of about 50 km3. About 78 percent of the lakes are in the mountain area over 3 500 m above sea level. The largest lake in the country, lake Karakul, is in the northeast at 3 914 m, with a surface area of 380 km2 and a volume of 26.5 km3. Sarez lake with 86.5 km2 surface area and a volume of 17.5 km3 is the second largest lake.
Water regulation is implemented by hundreds of hydraulic headworks, canals, pump stations and reservoirs. Reservoirs play the main role in water regulation for Tajikistan and downstream countries.
In 2010, there were 17 dams: 4 in the Syr Darya river basin and 13 in the Amu Darya river basin, of which 8 on the Vakhsh river, 2 on the Panj river and 3 on the Kofarnihon river. Their total reservoir capacity is about 29.5 km3.
Ten reservoirs have a capacity of more than 10 million m3 each and their total capacity is 29 km3. The largest reservoirs are: Nurek on the Vakhsh river (10.5 km3), Kayrakkum on the Syr Darya river (4.16 km3), Farhod on the Syr Darya river (350 million m3), Boygozi on the Vakhsh river (125 million m3), Kattasoy on the Kattasoy river (55 million m3), Muminabad on the Obi Surkh river (31 million m3), Dahanasoy on the Dahanasoy river (28 million m3) and Sangtuda 1 on the Vakhsh river (25 million m3). Sangtuda 2 reservoir (5 million m3) on the Vakhsh river was inaugurated in 2011. The Nurek headwork incorporates a unique rock-filled dam with a central core, 310 m high a power plant with a capacity of 3 000 MW. Nurek and Kayrakkum reservoirs hold water for irrigation in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakstan. Rogun reservoir on the Vakhsh river (13.3 km3) is under construction the first phase of construction was finished in 2012.
The gross theoretical hydropower potential is an estimated 527 000 Gwh/ year, about half of which would be economically feasible. In 1994, the total installed capacity was about 4 GWh, generating about 98 percent of the country’s electricity. In 1999, Tajikistan ranked third in the world for hydropower development, after the United States and the Russian Federation.