One of the various types of bridges you can find crossing Bishkek's irrigation system.

Bishkek Irrigation Canals

Published: August 2, 2015

There is a lot going on in Bishkek and there are a lot of pleasant parks and a few wide, shaded boulevards. While walking along them looking around, in the quieter areas, you will notice the sound of a babbling brook. Look down and you will find one of Bishkek’s most interesting characteristics that no one seems to talk about: the irrigation ditches.

These ditches run throughout the downtown area of Bishkek, providing water to the major parks in the area and running along many of the major throughways. It appears that the irrigation water comes from the nearby mountains, including from Ala-Archa National Park. A raised, open canal runs from the park towards the city.

The canals all tend to be open, although some will have metal grates or stone blocks crossing over them in high-traffic or parking areas. They tend to be between 1 and 2 feet in width and about the same depth. When first seen, they appear to be incredibly ineffective due to their concrete construction, but upon closer inspection, one finds that the concrete was actually made in small blocks which have openings in the bottom and sides to let water seep into the ground near the trees and other plants to help keep the city, as it is famously known, Central Asia’s greenest.

As can be seen by the pictures, the canal system is in disrepair currently and there are many areas that simply get no water, or the water just stands still. Sometimes there are clogs in the system and water spreads out over the road or sidewalk. Garbage tends to gather in the ditches.

On the extra hot days, the canals have another task of cooling Bishkek locals, who will rest on the ground near the ditches soaking their feet in the running water. They also provide beautiful background music in the middle of a city park helping make them even more like peaceful islands in the middle of a city filled with cars who like to use their horns.

The final comment that I think can be made about the canals is their possible use in other cities. With current movements to make cities more environmentally friendly and simply greener for the health of citizens, a way of irrigating those plants has to be developed. In some areas, a simple irrigation system such as Bishkek has may be just the answer required, but more research needs to be done on this, which can only start through more awareness and appreciation of these little details in the city.

So, if you come to Kyrgyzstan, make sure to take a moment to notice the water running next to your feet or the pleasant music of the flowing water while you rest on a bench in your favorite park, appreciating the number of trees in this city.


About the author

Ian Walker

Ian Walker graduated from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada May of 2015 with a degree in Philosophy and a minor in Law & Society. He is now studying Russian as a Second Language with SRAS in Bishkek while serving an SRAS-arranged internship at a local NGO to learn more about non-profit work and international community development. He hopes to start Peace Corps service in the following year or two to continue his career in community development. In the picture here, he pictured in a Bishkek park that has a tower which is locked until one purchases a ticket to go to the top, and holding a bottle of Maksim Shoro, a popular Kyrgyz fermented drink.

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