Rehabilitating the water dynamics of the Puszta

2019-02-26

In the autumn of 2018, the biggest landscape character-shaping works started. High-intensity grazing and cutting of the reed-meadow vegetation, have changed the vegetation of the project areas noticeably. As a result of these, the homogeneous reeds are replaced in many places by mosaic grassland associations. The activities performed so far, however, are not able to significantly change the landscape character and unfavorable hydrogeological conditions.

Unfortunately, the current watercourse and water dynamics of the puszta  (steppe) do not show a very favorable picture, due to the presence of artificial elements, canals, hydraulic structures that remained here since the last century.

The wrong conclusion of earlier land use was that the presence of purely residual water is detrimental and hampers the achievement of farming objectives. The various dams and drainage channels lead the water accumulated on the areas to the nearest water stream as soon as possible. For this reason, the autumn and spring precipitation disappears sooner than it should, and the droughts, which become longer and longer, intensify the drying of the areas.

It is crucial to restore the natural water flow of the project areas for the growth of pastures and their proper ecological status. Steppe lakes are formed in unhindered, shallow, large-scale depressions, where autumn and spring precipitation and melted snow accumulate. To do this, let's see what we have done so far...

The first step was to create an alternative channel for draining the fishponds in Hortobágy. The drainage is currently being done through the Tonnás Canal, which is due to its hydrographic specificity and its western-eastern downstream, crossing several natural watercourses, such as the Pap-ere, from which the precipitation is drawn into the Hortobágy River. It blocks the northwardly movements of natural surface and groundwater. This problem will be remedied by the infilling of the Tonnás Canal. Before that, however, there should be an alternative way to drain the water of the Fishponds.

The Szikra Canal is a good alternative for draining water from the Fishponds. The technical condition of the channel must undergo a major transformation. This was the aim of the interventions that started in the summer of 2018, where a deeper and broader bed was created, and then new hydraulic structures corresponding to the changed function were built in. This year, we hope that the channel will be in good technical condition for draining.

The transformation of Szikra Canal (Photo: Antal Széll)

The transformation of Szikra Canal (Photo: Antal Széll)

At the same time, the infilling of the Nagy-rét feeding canal were started on the Szelencés-Angyalháza project area. The channel was significantly altering the movements of natural surface and groundwater. The main purpose of the works is also the preservation of the natural rainwater on the area. The constructor also placed great emphasis on the preservation of natural water bodies during the elimination of the canal, for example, the Tarkány-fok, which extends through the former canal, remains a significant wetland habitat. With the disappearance of the Nagy-rét feeding canal, after the rainy season, much more water will remain in the natural steppe basins and the Nagyág-ér area.

Tárkány-fok remaind as an important wetland habitat (Photo: Antal Széll)

The works will continue in the area of Kis-Kondás and V-fishpond. The demolition of the dams on the northern side has begun in the Kis-Kondás project area.  The dams form physical barriers between the natural steppes. With several years of intensive grazing, we managed to turn the flora of the basin into a beneficial plant association. After the elimination the water movement between the areas will also return to the natural state. Protected plant species in the affected areas, such as the Plantago schwarzenbergiana on the eastern barrier of Kis-Kondás, should be saved along with Phlomis tuberosa on the upper humus layer of the northern barrier. This will be coordinated by the Hortobágy National Park Directorate.

This year's big challenge is the formation of the alternative feeding channel for the Fishpond. Much of the work here is to remove the large biomass, especially reed and bulrush, which still requires pre-treatment by machines.

Despite the fact that we are still at the beginning of the year, we have to plan strategy for the current and future earthwork activities to balance the progress and protection of the natural values. Upfilling the Tonnás Canal, as well as canal and rice cell elimination in the Zám project areas, demolishing dams, will require a high level of professional cooperation, day-to-day contact, and precise work organization and coordination.