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Rivers, Lakes, Springs
Water Resources

(Note: length of river is given for Armenia territory only)
Too many visitors who have never ventured beyond the confines of the Ararat Valley in the summertime are given the false impression that Armenia is a dry country. More than 200 rivers and streams run through the country, most of which are fed from melting snows and tens of thousands of springs. There is still an astonishing amount of water which runs through the main tributaries into the Arax River on the Armenian/Turkish border and the Kur River in Azerbaijan.

A huge underground lake lies below the Ararat Valley. The Valley was recorded as early as the Assyrian Period as being a rich, forested marshland, with cultivated lakes. The Kasakh (89 km), Hrazdan (146 km), Azat (56 km) and Vedi (58 km) Rivers run West to East and North to South in the Ararat Valley, feeding numerous irrigation canal systems as they flow from mountain sources into the Arax river (158 km), which forms the southwestern border with Turkey.

In Vayots Dzor the Darb (20 km), Yeghegis (54 km) and Arpa (90 km) Rivers continually feed the low lands as do thousands more natural springs.

The Vorotan (119 km), Voghji (56 km) and Meghri (32 km) Rivers run through Siunik, with the Vorotan flowing East to the Hagari River in Azerbaijan where it joins the Arax. The Meghri River flows from the Meghri Mountain Range south into the Arax River by Meghri town.

In Shirak District the Akhurian River begins at the Arpilich Reservoir in Armenia s Siberia  and flows for 210 kilometers before joining the Arax River by the village of Bagaran in Armavir District. The Mantash River (90 km) flows from South to North East into the Akhurian, feeding the Shirak Canal system with the Akhurian.

The second largest river system in the country lies in Lori and Tavoush Districts. In Lori the Dzoraget (57 km) joins the Pambak (86 km) River to form the source of the Debed (152 km), which flows into Georgia. The smaller rivers of the Chichkan (65 km), Urut (25 km) and the Marts (25 km) feed the Lori River system. In Tavoush the Koghb (25 km), Joghaz (57 km), Aksipara (21 km), Sarnajur (23 km), Spitakjur (10 km) Urtijur (19 km) all feed into the Aghstev (99 km) which runs to the Kur River in Azerbaijan (the Kur eventually joining the Arax). Other rivers in Lori feeding the Kur are the Hakhum (45 km), Tavush (43 km) and the Khndzorut (65 km).

Sevan Lake is fed by 28 rivers, including the Masrik (43 km), Boydara (16 km), Vardenis (28 km), the Argichi (51 km) fed by the Karadzi (22 km), the Martuni (12 km), Tzakkar (23 km) and the Kukudzor (11 km) joining the Gegharkunik (51 km). In turn the Sevan is the source of the Hrazdan River, which flows through Kotaik District into the Ararat Valley. The Marmarik River in Northwest Kotaik joins the Hrazdan River east of the Tzaghkadzor Forest and Resort area.

There are countless mountain streams that feed this extensive river system which runs in virtually all directions as they deliver melting snows, spring and rain water into the valleys and mountain plateaus. Several rivers have been diverted into lakes and reservoirs, which form the bulk of the irrigation and drinking water for the country. Like so much else in the former Soviet Union, mismanagement of natural resources, rather than their amounts, has threatened the ecological system as well as the economic expansion for the new republic.

Lakes, Reservoirs
Lake Sevan (alt. 1897m/6222f), with a total water surface of 1256 sq. kilometers is one the largest high altitude lakes it the world. The lake is fed by 28 rivers and streams, thousands of years of melting snow from the surrounding mountains and scattered rainfall in the Spring and early summer. As the source for the second largest river in Armenia, the Hrazdan, Lake Sevan literally is the source of life for the largest part of the Armenian population. Extensively used beginning in the Soviet Area to irrigate arid mountain plateaus and to generate hydro-electric power, the lake reached recorded low levels in the 1970 s, losing more than 10 meters of water depth. The receding waters revealed several prehistoric settlements, including the 2nd millennium BCE royal burial ground at Lechashen and 1st millennium BCE Urartian cuneiform stones, showing the lake has experienced at least one natural loss of water volume in history. Continued aggressive use of the water in the 1980's further depleted an additional 10 meters of depth. It has been estimated that even if water diversion was stopped, it would take up to 500 years to naturally restore the lake to its previous levels.

Ailing as it is, Lake Sevan is still a spectacular marine system, holding some of the purest water in the world. A unique high altitude marshland lies on the Southern shores, a rare home to Storks and water fowl little seen at this altitude. The lake is home to the endangered Ishkhan (Armenian trout) and Sig fish, as well as seagulls, gray ducks and several species of eagles. Another endangerd visitor to the lake is the Armenian leopard or panther (panthera pardus tullianus).

Aside from Lake Sevan, there are only a handful of natural lakes in the country, among them Karilich and Lake Lessing on Mt. Aragats; Aygehr in the Ararat Ravine; Lake Kaputan in the Zangezour Mountain Range; Lake Akna on the Geghama Lehr east of Abovian; and Lake Parz northeast of Dilijan. By comparison , while Lake Sevan has 1256 sq. kilometers of water surface, there is only one square kilometer of water surface from ALL the primary natural lakes in Armenia.

Reservoirs make up the second largest water surface in the country, the source of irrigation and drinking water, and also a source of ecological strain. The Akhurian, straddling the Turkish and Armenian borders and Kars River on the Turkish side feed the Akhurian Reservoir, which lies east of the town of Maralik. The reservoir is heavily used, and water tables drop precipitously by mid summer. Much of this was due to irrigation methods that used huge sprinkling systems, in which 70% of the moisture is evaporated before it reaches plant roots.

Other reservoirs include the Spandarian, Angeghakot, Tolors and Shamb Reservoirs in Siunik (Sissian District), developed to promote wheat production in the area, and to divert water to support Lake Sevan. Others are the Kechut (Vayots Dzor), Azat (Ararat District), Aparan (Kotaik), Mantash, Kaghnu and Arpi (Shirak).

Thermal and Mineral Springs
There are more than 20,000 (some say 40,000) natural springs in Armenia. The springs (including mineral and thermal springs) supported a thriving health and spa ("Sanatorium") industry in the 1980 s, and make up one of Armenia s most promising tourist attractions. At present most mineral springs are relatively undeveloped, except the spa areas around Jermuk and Hankavan. Even there the cost of a spa treatment is as low as $10-15 a day (meals and lodging included).

Thermal springs lie throughout the country, but Siunik and Vayots Dzor are home to the most popular (and the warmest recorded) springs. The most famous is perhaps Jermuk, with naturally carbonated sulfur thermal springs (37-42? C/99-108? F). Other springs at Jermuk include a calcium-sulfur cold water spring (4-20? C/39-68? F), and purified spring-fed thermal Jacuzzi's and baths (20-37? C/68-99?F). Hankavan has several natural mineral springs in the area, the warmest at the Hankavan Spa (20-37?C/68-99? F), which is currently closed. Not to worry, as the springs run off into the Marmarik River, and locals regularly gather for a quick soak. Another popular warm water spring spa is located at Arzni, just north of Yerevan. The waters and newly privatized spas are working.

There are countless other thermal and cold water springs, most known only to the local villagers. It's well worth asking, since you may just stumble across a natural treasure. If you find one off the beaten path, relax and soak a while you will be undisturbed, often completely alone in stunning wilderness areas.

Click here for a list of Armenia's Thermal And Mineral Springs.

Soaking Etiquette
Springs can be located by the roadside, which are reserved for drinking, on clearly marked paths, or in out of the way locations. Many springs are considered community property, with villagers and visitors making stops to soak or collect water in bottles. If it's a drinking spring, then it's not for soaking, no matter how appealing. A spring for soaking is fairly obvious: it empties into a pool, is fairly secluded, and is not stocked with fish (and fishermen) being bred for market. Often there will be others already taking in some of the effervescent waters. Men feel quite at home stripping down to their underpants to soak provided women are no where in sight. Nudity is rarely (if ever) allowed. Bring a swimsuit if you are more modest. Women visitors can feel free to soak, but wear a swimsuit, and if there are any local men around, be prepared for a lot of attention, which can make the experience unpleasant.

Carbonated sulfur water is surprisingly strong, and one should never soak more than 5-10 minutes at a time, especially if it is hot. This goes for 'professional soakers' and neophytes alike. The revitalizing affect will be most immediately felt on your pulse, so monitor it as you soak. The skin tingles, and if you are allergic to sulfur, you can get a rash. Calcium carbonated water (the stuff they put in sodas to make it fizz), tingles as well, and can raise your pulse if you stay too long in the water. Best to "dunk and drip", that is, spend just a few minutes in, then twice as long out, especially if you haven't tried natural spas before.

Along the roadside you will find hundreds of carved stones, almost all an outlet for natural drinking water. The stones are carved as memorials to commemorate a loved one, an historic event, even an engineer who worked on the road. Almost all have designs borrowed from the khachkar tradition, with beautiful details and flourishes. The water is safe to drink, though if enough mouths have sucked on the pipe, you may want to wait a few seconds before taking a sip.


Images (photos by Tigran Nazarian)

Eco Agrotourism in South Caucaus (excellent maps)
EcoTeam Development
Armenian Flora/Fauna Stamps

Weather Forecasts
Climate Change Info Center-Armenia
National Academy of Sciences of Armenia
Protected Areas of Armenia
Map of Sevan National Park

Threatened Species in Armenia
State of Environment Report 2000 (UN)

write TourArmenia

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