A gigantic Hollywood-style sign reading “KAZAKHSTAN” stands overlooking Oskemen, the principal city of the country’s eastern province. But the resemblance to the American dream destination ends there, obscured behind billowing clouds of smoke from the stacks of the local industrial park.
Geography has rendered Oskemen particularly attractive to industry. The area surrounding the city is rich not just in metals but also in water, thanks to the confluence of the Irtysh and Ulba rivers. However, industrial boom times were threatened a decade ago when the town’s water supply system began to crumble because of outdated equipment. It was an extreme case of deferred maintenance.
PHOTO: Oskemen’s residents are lucky to live in one of the few water-rich areas in Kazakhstan. In the early 2000s, however, the city’s water facilities were in dire shape. The amount of water lost before it could reach users was nearly 50 percent, meaning that substantially more water had to be extracted than was actually needed. Oskemen Vodokanal, the managing body for water facilities, began a modernisation programme in 2009, and since then water losses have diminished significantly, reducing the amount of water that needs to be pumped.
Years of trouble
Back in 2001, when current director Erzhan Aubakirov became chief engineer for Oskemen Vodokanal, the state-run managing body for the city’s water facilities, the company couldn’t make ends meet. “It was nothing but debts here, and had been for years,” Aubakirov recalls.
Ageing equipment, some of even predating Kazakhstan’s days as a Soviet republic, needed to be replaced, but Oskemen Vodokanal could do nothing about it. The company had to keep water tariffs low to make the region attractive for investors. No funds for modernisation could be raised without external support.
It was a “Catch-22” situation: there was no way to start a renovation, but the price of keeping the status quo was getting too high. Of all the water extracted in 2008, nearly half was wasted in the outdated processes before it could reach the users.
Replacing old pumps was one of our key modernisation goals. One of the pumps we used was manufactured in 1898, and another was from 1902.
Erzhan Aubakirov, Director of Oskemen Vodokanal
In 2009, the year Aubakirov took the reins of Oskemen Vodokanal, the state launched modernisation programmes for public utilities and networks.
“Replacing old pumps was one of our key modernisation goals,” Aubakirov says. “One of the pumps we used was manufactured in 1898, and another was from 1902.”
The tender was announced, and proposals from bidders started to come in. Grundfos’ local office struck the winning deal. One provision was that the new pumps would arrive before the entire price of the deal was paid. The balance would be paid over the course of a year, financed in part by savings in energy costs.
The new equipment was installed, and the improvement was immediate. “It’s like a new-generation mobile phone,” Aubakirov says. “You just switch it on and it starts working.”
PHOTO: Two technical mechanics at the Oskemen Vodokanal water utility monitor the plant’s water intake facilities.
Many of Oskemen’s water intake facilities are located in the valley along both the Irtysh and Ulba rivers, which means it must be pumped out of the valley. “We consume a lot of energy,” Aubakirov explains. “We pump water from 40-metre-deep wells and keep pumping it uphill to consumers.”
But the Grundfos equipment significantly lowered the energy costs, he says. “In 2013, overall power savings on all facilities operating on Grundfos gear was 26.5 percent, or 30 million Kazakh tenge [about US$200,000],” he says.
In fact, the company’s overall power consumption is lower than it was in 2010 even though more facilities have been launched. And the company is taking less water from the wells, thanks to reduced losses. In 2012 the amount of water extracted was some 30 percent less than in 2008, according to the company.
Rebirth of a facility
The Elevatorny water intake facility, which serves some 30,000 people, became the first station to be completely revamped with Grundfos gear.
The facility had been operating since 1974, when the city’s development moved southwards, to the left bank of the Irtysh, farther from the industrial smokestacks.
Elevatorny’s modernisation took about two years and was finished in 2011. “Only the old walls remain now,” Aubakirov says with satisfaction.
PHOTO: The Grundfos DDI digital dosing pumps give Oskemen Vodokanal a modern water treatment solution.
The revamp involved 11 new submersible pumps in the water wells, as well as two double-entry pumps and a new water treatment system that reduces the dangers of gas chlorine water treatment.
The staff can check the water treatment through a small window without resorting to gas masks.
“It’s all gone now – all the checks by emergency-situation agencies and state-standards monitors,” Aubakirov says. “There’s no need for that now."
After the modernisation, Oskemen Vodokanal finally became profitable. For Aubakirov, however, the company’s achievements are just a start. Further modernisation plans include replacing the town’s plumbing network under a governmental investment programme for 2013–2015. The programme states that some segments of Oskemen’s plumbing system are completely worn out.
Aubakirov also wants to introduce the idea of water conservation to town residents, who have been reluctant to install water meters. “In the past, no one cared about efficiency or calculated anything,” he says. “It was a mistake of the communist economy.”
In the end, Aubakirov says, modernisation is not just about accounting. It’s about a sustainable water supply and a better environment. “After all,” he says, “it’s all done for people.”
PHOTO: The Oskemen Vodokanal water utility office in Oskemen, Kazakhstan
Oskemen’s modern Grundfos pump systems
Grundfos supplied the following equipment for the Elevatorny water intake:
• 11 SP 215 water extraction pumps, 37 kW
• 2 Selcoperm 1000 hypochlorite disinfection systems
• 2 DIA (Dosing Instrumentation Advanced) measuring amplifier/controllers
• 6 DDI digital dosing pumps
• 5 HS350-250-630 second lift station pumps, 315 kW