The transboundary integrated river basin management is an important issue worldwide. Inadequate and inappropriate international water management can be serious threat to international and national security. Currently, the issues related are actively tackled by various programs and projects. For instance, the European Water Framework Directive promoting basin-wide approach to water management was developed and its realization initiated through the EU countries.
At the same time, in the countries of former Soviet Union the system of integrated basin management existed in Soviet Union has collapsed and we face drastic deterioration of environmental conditions. Such a situation occurs in every river basin in the former Soviet Union. Especially, this is true in the Ural river basin. Two basin countries, Russia and Kazakhstan, do not cooperate towards sustainable regional development.
While there is a plenty of experience and knowledge in the transboundary river management accumulated in European countries as well as former Soviet Union, this knowledge cannot be simply copied to the Ural river basin having different institutional and regional specifications. The careful evaluation of best practices and extensive research is needed to develop the regional strategy for sustainable basin development.
As a basis for such a strategy, which can incorporate and link together the economical, environmental and social aspects of sustainable development, we see the preservation of Ural sturgeon population. The sturgeon population lives in the internationally shared Caspian Sea and migrates to the spawning places in Russia through the territory of Kazakhstan. Preserving the sturgeon in the region would not only be of pure environmental benefit, but also would greatly contribute to economic and social stability in the region as well as food and water security.
There is no need to describe the importance of sturgeon conservation and worldwide concern over its fate.
Apart from its high economic value and flagship function the sturgeon is an indicator (umbrella) species for the river basin it inhabits. Being the perfect natural bioindicator the well being of the sturgeon population in a river network allows us not only to determine the river ecosystem’s health, but also to assess the sustainability of human activities in the basin.
The recent drastic decrease in sturgeon population is believed to be caused by different reasons, but the main ones are probably habitat destruction and blockage of the spawning places and migration routes by the construction of barrier complexes on the main basin rivers. From this perspective the Ural river is unique since thanks to the absence of a barrier complex it contains a self-sustaining, viable sturgeon population capable of natural reproduction.
There are a lot of international and national Programs and Projects aiming at preservation and restoration of the Caspian Sturgeon. Regional sturgeon conservation activities concentrate mainly on artificial propagation and restocking. In our opinion, while this approach can be useful for partial satisfying of the caviar/sturgeon meat market for a short period of time, it cannot secure sustainable reproduction and management of the sturgeon population.
However, the importance of the Ural river basin sturgeon habitats for the conservation of the whole Caspian Sturgeon population is underestimated. For instance, the Russian National Action Plan developed within the framework of the Caspian Environmental Programme does not mention the river Ural even once, even though the restoration of the spawning habitats is one of the Caspian Strategic Action Programme’s objectives.
This is an obvious shortcoming of the whole Caspian sturgeon related activities and some urgent steps should be undertaken to correct this situation. A set of recommendations and amendments to the existing national action plans and development programs, taking into account best international practices but based on the results of regional research, has to be developed.
In addition, the traditional approach to the environmental research is to concentrate on particular aspect of the problem, lacking holistic interdisciplinary approach utilized by many western environmental schools.