THE RIVER AND THE PEOPLE. From the history of exploration and development of River Angara.

From the history of exploration and development of River Angara.

River Angara Basin was populated since the old times. Archeological discoveries give evidence that human settlements existed in River Angara basin already in Paleolithic (That is, several thousand years B.C.). The traces of their presence: nomadic camps, permanent settlements, tomb-hills, burial grounds, irrigation networks, drawings on the walls of caves and rock faces, are still to be found along river banks.

By early XVII century River Angara basin was mostly populated by nomadic Evenk (Tungus) and Bouryat tribes. The Evenks were experts in river geography: throughout their long migrations, they had the clearest idea of the complex hydrographic network on the vast territory of The Riverside and adjacent territories of East Siberia.

A regular exploration and development of River Angara began with the arrival of Russian explorers and incorporation of The Riverside into Russia during the first half of the XVII century. It was exactly River Angara, under its former name Nizhnyaya Tunguska, that facilitated the development of the region: the Russian move into The Riverside took place along it, as the only available transportation route at those times. Russian explorers reached River Angara in the first half of the XVII century, when the detachment of Cossaks under the command of P.Albytchev and Tch.Rukin, in the year 1619, founded Yeniseisk — the outpost for further incorporation of Siberian lands into Russia nearby the confluence of River Yenisei and River Angara.

The first Angara fortalice was founded by the well-known explorer P.Beketov in the lower reaches of River Angara close to the estuary of River Rybnaya in the year 1628. The Cossak Chieftain I.Galkin of Rybinsk founded Ilimsk Fortalice in the middle reaches of The Riverside on River Ilim in 1630, from where an important boat-trail towards River Lena used to go. Next year, 1631, Bratsk Fortalice was founded by M.Perfil’yev on River Angara, nearby its confluence with River Oka. The move towards Lake Baikal continued with the construction of Irkutsk Winter Quarters by I.Pokhabov in River Irkut estuary in 1661, Irkutsk Fortalice by Ya.Pohkabov in 1654, Balagansk Fortalice by O.Firsov in 1669, followed by Usol’ye Winter Quarters and Idinsk Fortalice. Uda Fortalice was founded on River Uda (1648) and Bel’sk Fortalice on River Belaya (second half of the XVII

century) later. Thus, Russian fortalices and settlements were to be found all the way through River Angara by the ’50s of the XVII century. The territory of River Angara basin was made part of Russia for good.

The incorporation of Siberia into European civilization made, perhaps, no less impact on the exploration of the world, than the discovery of America or the sea-route to India. The information collected by the explorers of Siberia enriched the science in general, as well as the science of rivers. The characteristics of navigational conditions, the descriptions of the banks and fishery resources are to be found in the notations and «missive letters» of the explorers. The information, collected by the first explorers, served as the basis for the compilation of the original descriptions and maps of The Riverside, that were published already in the second half ofthe XVII century. The first «Drawing Composition» («Tcherteznhaya Rospis’») of River Angara waterway, that rendered the account of major tributaries and rapids, was made by P. Golovin. Later, in the year 1667, River Angara was displayed on the «Drawing of All Siberia» compiled by P.Godunov, and in the year 1698 on the «Drawing of All Siberia» and the «Drawing Register» — the first geographical atlas of Siberia, compiled by S.Remezov.

The scientific exploration of River Angara was initiated in the first half of the XVII century by the land-prospector P.Tchitchagov during the years 1725-1730, who made the first instrumental prospecting of River Angara. The first scientific description of the river was produced by the governmental expedition of D.Messerschmidt, that was working in Siberia during the years 1720-1727. A major contribution to the investigation of River Angara, was made by the research performed by I.Gmelin, S.Krashennikov, G.Miller. By the end of XVII century the description of Baikal Lakeside, made by academician P.Pallas, was published. However, a detailed investigation of River Angara and its basin began only by mid XIX century, when the expedition of A.Middendorf arrived in The Riverside and compiled a most valuable general geographic description of it. The foundation of the geological studies of Angara River basin was laid by I. Tcherskii, A.Tchekanov, P.Yavorskii, V.Obrutchev.

Special descriptions of rivers, the so called hydrographic prospecting, were mostly concentrated within the responsibilities of the transportation department, due to the primary importance of rivers, as waterways in the early XX century. The prospecting team of M.Tchemtsov produced the first complete hydrographic description of River Angara in the years 1887-1889. The investigation resulted in «Atlas of River Angara» — a fundamental work which still did not lose its scientific importance. The prospecting resulted in exact mapping of River Angara and its tributaries, that was updated only between the ’40s and ’50s of the XX century by aerial photography.

Specific hydrological observations of River Angara water-level, volume of discharge, and water-temperature started in early XX century. The original observations of that kind started in Irkutsk in 1886. During the first half of the present century, systematic observations on most major and medium-sized rivers of Angara basin were organized by Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk Hydrometeorological Service.

The first project for the utilization of hydro-power resources of River Angara was attempted by A.Vel’ner in 1920 within the frame of GOELRO* activities. Beginning 1930, there started regular prospecting and research activities for the evaluation of the hydro-energetic potential of River Angara, operated by the East-Siberian and Moscow branches of the central Aquatic Resources Department under the supervision of I.Alexandrov, V.Malyshev, and I.Kolossovskii. During the years after the Second World War, those activities were intensified, and by the year 1953, the proposal for the utilization of River Angara potential for electric power generation, which described 6 proposed Hydros from Lake Baikal to River Yenisei, was completed.

During the latest several decades, the investigation of aquatic resources of River Angara basin, their utilisation and conservation, was performed on a particularly large scale. Extensive aquatic prospecting and designing is performed in connection with the construction of production facilities and irrigation networks. The system of hydrological, hydrochemical and hydrobiological monitoring is performed by the State Committee of Hydrometeorology. The monitoring of the sources of discharge into water-bodies is performed by Irkutsk Regional and Krasnoyarsk Territorial Committees for the Protection of the Environment and Natural Resources. The information on the utilization of aquatic resources is accumulated and processed in the Departments of Aquatic Development of River Angara/Lake Baikal and River Yenisei basins.

The scientific investigation is getting more diversified. Particular importance is acquired by the deeper understanding of the natural regimen of water-flows and water-bodies of River Angara basin, projections of their ecological condition and the establishment of proper activities, directed at their conservation and rehabilitation. Important fundamental and applied research in those fields is performed by the research institutes of the Siberian Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences: Irkutsk Scientific Center (The Institutes of Geography, Limnology, Earth Crust, Siberian Institute of Energy, Institute of Geochemistry) and Krasnoyarsk Scientific Center (The Institutes of Biophysics, Forestry and Timber). The research of The Riverside aquatic environment performed by the branch institutions of Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk Universities (Research Institute of Biology, Computing Center, Departments of Geography and Biology), a number of higher education institutions and industrial research institutes (East Siberian Research Institute of Construction Design, the Institute of Ecological Toxicology, the Research Institute of Industrial Aquatics, etc.).

The exploration of the rivers in the Angara basin was proceeding hand in hand with their investigation. During the centuries, following the incorporation of East Siberia into Russia, the main function of River Angara was that of waterway transportation; in spite of the dangerous rapids and bottom bars, all the communication with West Siberia was operated via River Angara until the construction of Moscow highway. The passage through River Angara rapids was long and difficult; under the most favourable conditions, the trip downstream from Irkutsk to Yeniseisk took 15 days, but in was not infrequent, that the ships had to wait for high water for weeks before the rapids. Often the ships wrecked in the terrible rapids midstream nearby Bratsk. Still, about 250 ships managed to make their passage downstream during the navigable season. The passage upstream was still more difficult, because the whole stretch of the river the boats had to be towed on a line, and protracted with the help of a windlass over the rapids. In the middle and lower reaches, the old dirt tracks could still be found, the ones that are called the «tow-ons» by the locals.

It is no wonder then, that with the construction of the Moscow Highway in the middle of the XVIII century, the waterway passage on River Angara was, basically, abandoned. Navigation was still operated only within the stretch between Bratsk and Irkutsk, the one free of rapids.

The first steamer travelled on River Angara in 1844, and by late XIX century, a regular steamboat traffic between Irkutsk and Bratsk was established. That was also the time of the last attempt to establish a throughout waterway passage on River Angara. Special tugboats were installed on the river by the famous Siberian entrepreneur I.Sibiryakov, the ones that travelled over the rapids attached to special chains anchored in the bottom. However, they did not manage to install that tugboat service on the most hazardous Padun Rapids, and therefore freight had to be reloaded on a roundabout railroad 2.5 km long. Thus, soon afterthe construction of the railroad, the tugboat service on River Angara was abandoned as unprofitable. The lower reaches of River Angara were soon covered by the steamer traffic from River Yenisei.

Industrial fishing on River Angara had been always operated mostly as a subsidiary activity due to the comparatively low productivity of the river. However, valuable fish species used to inhabit it — sterlet (of the sturgeon family), Siberian whitefish, Siberian sturgeon, grayling, lenok and taimen (both latter of the salmonid family), etc., that were widely used for personal consumption by local population. Ill-conceived increase of commercial fishing during the ’40s and ’50s of the present century decimated the fish stock of River Angara, while the construction of the chain of reservoirs for high-pressure hydros and the pollution of the river by sewage inflicted the fishing industry of The Riverside still harder blow. Local population, however, still procures excessive supply of fresh and salted fish, primarily grayling, for household consumption.

The scope of industrial development of the rivers within Angara basin was particularly expanded during the XX century. Timber floating on River Angara and its tributaries became a thing of major importance. It blossomed from the ’50s through the ’70s, when eventually all major and mediumsized rivers within the basin that cross the railroad were used for «free» transportation of the timber logged in the region. Total stretch of timber driftfloating waterways used to reach 2.5 thousand km, while rafting was operated only on River Angara. In was only in the ’80s, with the increasing ecological awareness of the community, when the volume of drift floating and the number of rivers used for it started to decrease rapidly.

At the turn of the XIX century and in early XX century, the water of River Angara and other rivers was put to use for central water-supply of railroad stations and cities. The first low-volume urban water conduit was constructed in Irkutsk in 1905. Developing industries required more water, thus the fastest to grow were the municipalities along River Angara and its tributaries. Beginning from late ’40s through early ’50s, the largest waterconsuming industries were allocated in The Riverside. Concurrent with the growth of water consumption, the volume of industrial and municipal sewage, that polluted River Angara and its tributaries, went up.

Universal development of amelioration, the respective irrigation or drainage of lands, started in the ’50s through the ’60s. It is worthy to note that artificial irrigation of agricultural lands was first employed by the long-extinct nationality Kuryka-ny, that populated The Riverside in VI-IX centuries; traces of their primitive irrigational networks could still be found in Kudinskaya Steppe.

Practical development of hydro-energetic potential of River Angara began in early ’50s. Following the completion of Irkutsk Hydro (beginning of the construction 1950, commissioning of the first generator unit into operation in 1956), the major Bratsk (1954-1961) and Ust’-Ilim Hydros were constructed. The great scale of hydro-energetic construction brought fundamental changes not only into the economy of The Riverside, but to the natural water regime of the river as well.


* "GOELRO" - The abbreviation for the plan of construction of a series of electric power stations throughout the country, developed shortly after the revolution of 1917.

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