River of Happiness: History of the Karakum Canal

River of Happiness: History of the Karakum Canal

The Karakum Canal has been flowing through the endless sands of the Karakum Desert for more than half a century. Its construction was launched in 1954, and the Amyderya, one of the most water-abundant rivers in Central Asia, was used to promote the building of an artificial reservoir.

In a matter of minutes, the river, which was popularly called “mad”, could flood the sandy shore to a depth of 10-20 meters. But that time, the unstable nature of the turbulent river was used productively for the construction: a narrow trench was dug, then a dam was destroyed, and the Amyderya water was let into the trench and the turbulent stream broadened the canal to the required size.

The main goal was not only to dig a canal, but also to protect it from the impact of the desert. Sandstorms, due to their intensity, can level the work of people and construction equipment. Therefore, dunes were covered with special cementing mixtures, saxaul hedges were planted, and dredgers were used against silts.

In the forty-degree heat, already completed sections of the canal were quickly overgrown with algae. To solve this problem, it was decided to stock the Karakum River with herbivorous fish – grass carp and silver carp. Fish, eating algae, quickly cleared the bottom, while the Karakum River grew. Water came and brought life to the desert.

The “River of Happiness” – the Karakum Canal – gave the population of the surrounding lands the opportunity to grow cotton in desert fields and to develop hectares of new grazing lands. The canal also changed climate in the Karakum, which resulted in an increase in precipitation.

The Turkmens had a proverb: “Rather, the Amyderya will flow back, than desert will turn green”. But the irrigation and bypass canal gave an opportunity to prove the contrary. Having started at the Amyderya River, it stretched westward, through the southern part of the Karakum, covering Mary, Ashgabat, Gokdepe and the Kopetdag foothills. The canal branches also stretch to Balkanabat.

 The total length of the Karakum Canal is 1445 km. It has several reservoirs that play an important role in the water consumption of cities and the agricultural sector. The current environmental policy in Turkmenistan successfully prevents water pollution.

The arid zones of Central Asia were always short of water. Therefore, water-saving technologies are applied today in order to rationally use water resources.

Every year, on the first Sunday of April, Turkmenistan celebrates the national holiday “A drop of water – a grain of gold”. And the man-made Karakum canal is always a source of inspiration for representatives of the art world. The tamed sands of the Karakum Desert excite the imagination, and the water continues to flow along the shore, turning the deserted land into gardens.