Toktogul dam, Kyrgyzistan

A historical transboundary water management dispute between Central Asian countries; a dam built in the Naryn River in the late 1970s flooded 26,000 ha of land and archeological sites. Further dams are planned.


The Toktogul Dam in Kyrgyzstan was built on the Naryn River (a northern tributary of the Syr Darya) during the 1970s as a centre piece of the Soviet Union’s efforts to conquer nature in its drive to modernise central Asia; the dam was finished in 1973, the reservoir created in 1976,  and served to control the inter-annual variability of water resources and to ensure that there would always be sufficient water for irrigation. The reservoir flooded more than 26 thousand hectares of land in the Kementub Valley, of which 21.2 thousand hectares of agricultural land, 26 communities including large settlement Toktogul were displaced and the main road through the region was re-routed. Archaeologists excavated sites dating back as far as the 8th century AD before they were lost. According to Eelke Kraak, researcher at University of Oxford , “For Soviet planners, dams were symbols of development and modernisation. The Soviet Union’s hydraulic mission was to conquer nature by transforming free flowing rivers into an economic resource. In absence of democracy, dams were also an important source of legitimacy for the Soviet Union. On average, the region has enough water to grow sufficient crops to feed its own population and earn foreign currency through exports. The problem, rather, is a huge geographic, seasonal and inter-annual variability in water availability. In response, between 1950 and 1990, the Soviet Union built hundreds of dams, canals and artificial lakes. Uzbekistan’s Hunger Steppe was transformed from an uninhabited desert into a cotton factory of 300,000 hectares. The Kara Kum Canal, when completed in 1988, transferred 12.9 cubic kilometres of water – almost 15% of the Amu Darya River – to irrigate parts of the Kara Kum Desert.” [1] The Toktogul dam became fully operational in the late 1980s. It is one component of a cascade of five hydroelectric stations downstream, which all together produce 90% of Kyrgyzstan’s power. As the dam regulates transboundary water flows, it has caused several frictions among Central Asian countries.

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Basic Data
NameToktogul dam, Kyrgyzistan
CountryKyrgyz Republic
ProvinceJalal-Abad Province
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsToktogul Dam is a hydroelectric and irrigation dam on the Naryn River in the Jalal-Abad Province of Kyrgyzstan. It is concrete gravity dam with height of 215 metres (705 ft) and length of 292.5 metres (960 ft). It is a part of the Naryn-Syr Darya cascade. It is named after Toktogul Satilganov.

The Toktogul Hydroelectric Station has installed capacity of 1,200 MW, which makes it the largest power plant in the country. It has four turbines with capacity of 300 MW each.

The reservoir has total capacity of 19.5 cubic kilometres (15,800,000 acre·ft), of which 14 cubic kilometres (11,000,000 acre·ft) is active capacity. Its length is 65 kilometres (40 mi) and its surface area is 284.3 square kilometres (109.8 sq mi). The maximal depth of the reservoir is 120 metres (390 ft).
Project Area (in hectares)26,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population35,000 displaced
Start Date1976
Company Names or State EnterprisesElectric Power Plants (EPP) from Kyrgyz Republic
Relevant government actorsGovernment of Kyrgyzstan
International and Financial InstitutionsAsian Development Bank (ADB)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersUNISON (Civic Environmental Foundation)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingLocal government/political parties
Forms of MobilizationOfficial complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage)
OtherLack of water inflow in Aral Sea
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseMigration/displacement
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.This is an historical case of water management dispute. Few records are available on people's mobilization at the time of displacement and how the issue was addressed in the '70s.
Sources and Materials

Shiriyazdanov, Sh. (1971). Токтогульский гигант строиться: очерк истории строительства ГЭС [Toktogul giant is being constructed: historical sketch of power plant construction] (in Russian)

Wooden, Amanda E. "Kyrgyzstan's dark ages: framing and the 2010 hydroelectric revolution." Central Asian Survey 33.4 (2014): 463-481.
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Amanda Wooden, J. Féaux de la Croix, D. Gullette, The great future of the country: Dams and hydroelectricity discourses in Kyrgyzstan, in Eric Freedman and Mark Neuzil, eds. Environmental Crises in Central Asia, Routledge, 2016


[1] China dialogue, 01.03.2012. Central Asia’s dam debacle. by Eelke Kraak
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Asia Times, JANUARY 25, 201 - Kyrgyz hydro projects hit rocks as Russia rethinks economic plans for Central Asia
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Azernews, 7 September 2015 - Central Asia to experience water crisis in 35 years
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Irrigation in the countries of the former Soviet Union in figures. FAO. 1997. p. 128. ISBN 978-92-5-104071-3.
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Wikipedia - Environmental issues in Kyrgyzstan
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The Diplomat, January 20, 2016 - Investors Needed for Kyrgyz Hydropower Projects
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Wikipedia - Toktogul_Dam
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[2] ADB - TA-8434 (KGZ) Power Sector Rehabilitation Project, Rehabilitation HPP Toktogul Phase 2
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ADB - ADB Funds the Completion of Toktogul Hydropower Plant Rehabilitation

9 September 2016
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Other Documents

View on the dam structure Source:
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Historical archive of the dam construction Source:
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Other CommentsSome observers have remarked on the difference between the strong civil society opposition to the Kumtor gold mine (owned by a Canadian company) and the internal acquiescence to the dams in the Naryn River (built by Russians, and now by the Asian Development Bank). The conflict here is with neighbouring states.
Meta Information
ContributorDaniela Del Bene, ICTA - UAB
Last update28/11/2016