The Karakum Canal (Turkmen: Garagum kanaly) is one of the longest water supply canals and largest irrigation systems in the world. Its located in Turkmenistan and crosses almost the entire territory of the country from east to west. The length of the channel is about 1375 km (854 mi). It can carry 13 km3 (3.1 cu mi) of water annually from the Amu-Darya River across the Karakum Desert.
The Karakum Canal was one of the most powerful and important infrastructure facilities in the Central Asia region built by the Soviet Union. Its construction began in 1954, a year after Stalin’s death. Before this, to irrigate the territory of the Karakum desert, it was planned to build another canal – the Main Turkmen Canal along the bed of the ancient dried up river Uzboy.
The first stage of the Karakum canal from Amu Darya to Murgab with a length of 400 km was built in 1959. The following year, the second stage of the canal from the city of Mary to Tejen, 138 km long, was completed. The Khauzkhan reservoir was built on this site. The third stage of the canal (Tedjen – Ashgabat), 260 km long, was completed in 1962. In 1967, the canal was extended to Gökdepe.
The construction of the canal made it possible to significantly increase the area of irrigated land and improve water supply to cities. Construction of the fourth stage of the canal lasted from 1971 to 1988. In 1973, two dams were built in Ashgabat, as well as the Kopetdag dam and the Kopetdag reservoir.
The construction of the Karakum canal, on the one hand, had a beneficial effect on the economic development of the region. On the other hand, the canal led to serious environmental problems. It takes up to 45% of the Amu Darya River flow. It is believed that the construction of the canal was one of the main reasons for the problem of drying up of the Aral Sea.
The channel efficiency is quite low. About a quarter of the water entering it goes into the ground. Some of the canal structures are in need of repair and reconstruction. Another canal problem is silting. At the beginning of the 21st century, the Zeid reservoir was built at the head of the canal to prevent siltation. The muddy water of the Amu Darya settles in it.