Water resources in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is an upper-middle-income country in Central Asia with a strong economic growth. The increasing urban population has an impact on natural resources, especially on water. The water supply relies heavily on surface water (90%) (FAO, 2012) with many people having limited access to safe potable water (Trouchine, 2003). Kazakhstan is frequently met by droughts that lead to higher pressure on surface as well as groundwater resources as many rivers fall dry. Kazakhstan’s inadequate water resources are one of the limiting factors that constrain the sustainable development the country (Chen et al., 2017).

Nevertheless, Kazakh regions are also prone to floods (FAO, 2012). Flash floods and mudflows occur frequently and are projected to get more devastating with climate change. Both the more frequent heavy rain events and the increasing drought vulnerability (leading to diminished vegetation covers) will increase the intensity of flood events (ClimateLinks, 2017).

The vulnerability to floods and the increasing need for potable water are effecting especially the urban areas of Kazakhstan. To tackle both problems at once, integrated water management is needed that combines surface water management (stormwater catchment and retention, flood protection) with groundwater management (recharge measures, recovery for different uses).

Stormwater management

The performance of stormwater management measures such as grassed swales, constructed wetlands, vegetated filter strips, hydrodynamic separators, media filters, and infiltration trenches is widely demonstrated regarding their effectiveness of pollutant removal and costs (Yu et al., 2013). These factors should also be the basis for choosing the appropriate stormwater management technique. Initiatives have been made to follow the philosophy of water sensitive urban design where stormwater management is planned in a way that minimizes the hydrological impact of urbanization on the natural water cycle but also understands stormwater as a resource that can be used for water supply needs (Lloyd et al., 2002).

Groundwater management

Managed aquifer recharge (MAR) is a nature-inspired water management technique that aims at intentionally replenishing the aquifers with surface water for later use of environmental benefits (Dillon, 2005). Contrary to conventional water storage, for MAR water is stored in subsurface reservoirs. The advantages of subsurface storage are reduced evaporation loss, minimal land requirements for storage, no sediment accumulation and protection from direct water contamination (Bouwer, 2002). MAR enables medium to long-term storage of water, thus, enhancing the seasonal water availability for regions with wet/dry periods and for drought episodes. Through infiltration and passage through the vadose soil zone, the quality of the infiltrated water can be enhanced (Dillon et al., 2009). The combined effect of water quality enhancement and temporary storage, can add to a holistic urban water management approach, where water is captured during times of high availability (storm events) and instead of being lost to river or sea discharge, the water is infiltrated into subsurface reservoirs providing additional drinking water sources.


  • FAO, 2012. AQUASTAT Country Profile – Kazakhstan. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Italy.
  • Chen, F., Mambetov, B., Maisupova, B., Kelgenbayev, N., 2017. Drought variations in Almaty (Kazakhstan) since AD 1785 based on spruce tree rings. Stoch. Environ. Res. Risk Assess. 31, 2097–2105. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00477-016-1290-y
  • ClimateLinks. 2017. Climate Risk Profile KAZAKHSTAN. Retrieved from: https://www.climatelinks.org/resources/climate-risk-profile-kazakhstan.
  • Yu, J., Yu, H., Xu, L., 2013. Performance evaluation of various stormwater best management practices. Environ. Sci. Pollut. Res. 20, 6160–6171. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-013-1655-4
  • Lloyd, S.D., Wong, T.H.F., Chesterfield, C.J., 2002. WATER SENSITIVE URBAN DESIGN – A STORMWATER MANAGEMENTPERSPECTIVE (Industry Report No. Report 02/10). Cooperative Research Centre for Catchment Hydrology
  • Dillon, P., 2005. Future management of aquifer recharge. Hydrogeol. J. 13, 313–316. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10040-004-0413-6
  • Bouwer, H., 2002. Artificial recharge of groundwater: hydrogeology and engineering. Hydrogeol. J. 10, 121–142. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10040-001-0182-4
  • Dillon, P., Pavelic, P., Page, D., Behringen, H., Ward, J., 2009. Managed aquifer recharge: An introduction (No. 13), Waterlines Report Series. National Water Commission, Canberra, Australia.