Water Resource Opportunities at Lake Gazivode/Ujman

Robert Muharremi

In June 2021, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) released a report titled “Water Resource Opportunities at Lake Gazivode/Ujman” (“Report”) which evaluates the opportunities for Kosovo and Serbia to coordinate their use of water resources at Lake Gazivode/Ujman. The U.S. Department of Energy tasked PNNL to prepare this report as part of the commitments under the Washington Agreement of 4 September 2020, where Serbia and Kosovo agreed to work with the U.S. Department of Energy on a feasibility study for the purposes of sharing Lake Gazivode/Ujman as a reliable source of water and energy supply.

Lake Gazivode/Ujman is a man-made reservoir at the border between Kosovo and Serbia. The lake was created by the construction of the Gazivode/Ujmani Dam on the Ibar/Ibër River between 1979 and 1985. Currently, there is no transboundary cooperation agreement between Kosovo and Serbia for managing the Lake Gazivode/Ujman.

The Lake Gazivode/Ujman water system consists of the Gazivode/Ujman Dam, and the Pridvorica/Pridvoricë Dam, which regulates releases from Gazivode/Ujmani Dam into the Ibër-Lepenc/Ibar-Lepenac Canal. The Gazivode/Ujman system and the Ibër-Lepenc/Ibar-Lepenac Canal supply drinking water to the cities of Mitrovica/ë North and Mitrovicë/a South, Vushtrri/Vučitrn, Gllogovc/Glogovac, Obiliq/Obilić, and Pristina; they support agriculture and mining operations, and provide cooling water to coal-based thermoelectric plants Kosovo A and B. The hydro-economic Ibër-Lepenc/Ibar Lepenac state-owned enterprise operates and maintains this water system.

Based on the assessment conducted by PNNL, the water security in Kosovo is vulnerable. The main factors contributing to this are as follows:

  • overall variability of the water supply,
  • lack of storage outside of Lake Gazivode/Ujman could result in a shortage of water supply in the future
  • existing water infrastructure is vulnerable to natural hazards, such as landslides and flooding, and is not well maintained or modernized
  • due to lack of regulations, the risk of pollution of surface water and drinking water is high, presenting sanitary and health concerns
  • lack of financial support for water infrastructure operations


A key concern is that water storage capacity in Kosovo is underdeveloped; it has only 300 m3 of storage per person. Most of this storage is in Lake Gazivode/Ujman. The water from Lake Gazivode/Ujman also supplies the water for cooling Kosovo’s two power plants, which produce nearly all electric power in Kosovo. In fact, more than 97 percent of Kosovo’s electricity generation relies on the release of water from Lake Gazivode/Ujmani. According to PNNL “this limited, unmaintained, and inefficiently managed water storage, combined with its location, tightly links water security with energy security and national security in Kosovo”. Water security and energy security in Kosovo are therefore interrelated and key to national security, and Lake Gazivode/Ujman is a vital asset in this context.

Moreover, the existing information systems currently prevent the scheduling of hydropower generation in a way that maximizes revenues. The information systems used in power plants would be outdated and that would lead to a lack of coordination with hydropower generation. There would also be a lack of consistent practices for the distribution of Gazivode/Ujmani System releases to canal diversions and the Ibar/Ibër River natural bed.

Accordingly, PNNL recommends

  • upgrading the water infrastructure including the construction of a new water reservoir;
  • implementing a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system at Gazivode/Ujmani hydropower plant to enhance power plant revenues and further support load balancing; and
  • exploring the formation of an Ibar/Ibër River commission or committee that would support regional stakeholders and coordinate river operations. A river commission would support discussion between parties about the water resource management opportunities, including actions by either side that would directly affect water supply and river services for the other party. For this purpose, PNNL propose that Serbia and Kosovo consider the technical coordination developed under the U.S.-Canada Columbia River Treaty.

PNNL emphasizes that the Lake Gazivode/Ujman water system is critical for Kosovo’s water and energy security and thus its national security. Water will become a strategic asset, especially if global warming continues, and Lake Gazivode/Ujman is vital for Kosovo and its socio-economic development. However, as a transboundary lake, PNNL suggest that Kosovo must cooperate with Serbia to meet its water security needs because the lake is fed with water from Serbia. Parts of the lake are also located in Serbia. The applicability of international water law is questionable because Kosovo has not signed any of the international agreements governing international watercourses and customary international water law, to extent existing, is subject to objection by Serbia which does not recognize Kosovo’s independence.

A river commission based on a bilateral agreement between Kosovo and Serbia is aimed at overcoming these barriers by setting the necessary rules on water supply, flood control and infrastructure management. PNNL uses the U.S.-Canada Columbia River Treaty (“Treaty”) to describe the complex institutional set up needed to coordinate water supply and flood control between the U.S. and Canada. The Columbia River Basin is a transboundary river in Canada and the United States. The purpose of the Treaty is to ensure adequate flood risk management, a reliable and economical power supply, and the protection of ecosystem-based function. In return for the construction of four dams that create water storage for flood control and hydropower which benefit the U.S., the U.S. agreed to pay Canada in cash and hydropower benefits (known as the “Canadian Entitlement”). The Treaty is implemented by U.S. and Canadian entities, which form different boards and committees, such as the Permanent Engineering Board or the Engineering Committee.

Whether the U.S.-Canada Columbia River Treaty is the right model for such intergovernmental cooperation or not is not relevant. It is certainly a useful model to start the thinking process. There are other transboundary river management mechanisms in place throughout the world which should be assessed and compared with each other to see which elements would fit Lake Gazivode/Ujman best. Since the U.S. government has pledged its support to Kosovo and Serbia to assist in finding a reasonable solution for transboundary water cooperation between Kosovo and Serbia, and Kosovo’s water security indeed depends on this lake.

PNNL suggest that the government should take the measures it can take unilaterally, such as constructing a new water storage reservoir, increasing the financial resources for more effective and efficient water resource management, including the implementation of a SCADA system. Most importantly, to take water security seriously, and accord the Lake Gazivode/Ujmani water system highest policy priority. Ignoring the sensitivity of the problem and avoiding a bilateral solution would only be to the detriment of Kosovo as a downstream country which depends on Lake Gazivode/Ujmani. With the U.S. in support, PNNL considers that Kosovo has a great opportunity to reach an equitable bilateral solution with Serbia that could have spill-over effects to other areas where bilateral cooperation and coordination with Serbia is needed and thus contribute to regional peace and security.

This op-ed is originally written in English.

The op-ed is supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Pristina. The opinions are of the authors and do not reflect the views of Balkans Policy Research Group and the donor.