Russia sounds alarm as Lake Baikal's water levels drop

January 20, 2015
A ship moves in Russia's Lake Baikal on July 29, 2008

Russia sounded the alarm Tuesday as water levels in Lake Baikal, the world's largest freshwater lake, dropped to record lows, with environmentalists blaming dry weather and overuse by local industry.

The regional emergency ministry in Buryatia region on the 's shores announced a state of high alert as villages surrounding the lake were reportedly hit by water shortages.

The water level in the lake is just eight centimetres (3 inches) above the minimum 456 metres (1496 feet) above sea level allowed by the Russian government. The lake has been at its lowest levels in 60 years, according to Buryatia natural resources minister Yury Safyanov.

Environmentalists, fishermen and industry that relies on fed by Baikal haggle over the lake year after year.

The Irkutsk hydroelectric power station on the Angara River flowing from Lake Baikal serves the large city of Irkutsk with electricity and water. It also feeds an enormous aluminium plant in the region with electricity. There are several other hydroelectric power plants on the Angara.

Lake Baikal—one of Russia's most striking landmarks which contains around one-fifth of the Earth's fresh water—is also a bone of contention between big industry and local populations thirsty for its water.

In Buryatia, a region that borders Lake Baikal and Mongolia, the governor Vyacheslav Nagovitsyn said there were already reports of underground springs drying up, fish disappearing and wild fires increasing.

"Every year, energy workers want to lower the level of Baikal to produce more power," said Alexander Kolotov, a coordinator for Rivers Without Boundaries, a coalition of environmentalists in Russia, China, Mongolia and the United States.

"But that is detrimental to the ecosystem," he told AFP.

A special meeting of the Russian government will decide next week whether to allow Baikal to drop below the current legal minimum level to feed the plants, he said.

Last spring Baikal's levels were lowered as everyone expected a rainy year, but the year turned out to be dry and the lake's level stayed low, said Arkady Ivanov of Greenpeace's Baikal programme.

"Now the energy industry wants to drop it even further—the more the level drops the more money is made," Ivanov said, cautioning that lower levels disrupt fish spawning and increase algae growth.

Explore further: Russia moves to shut down Lake Baikal paper mill

Related Stories

Russia moves to shut down Lake Baikal paper mill

February 28, 2013

A controversial Soviet-era paper mill on the shores of Lake Baikal will be closed down, a government spokeswoman said Thursday, after years of complaints about pollution at the UNESCO-protected Siberian site.

NASA image: Wildfires around Lake Baikal, Russia

May 19, 2014

Lake Baikal, which is usually still frozen over at this time of year, can clearly be seen in the image. At this time, though, the lake has lost all of its ice coverage already even though snow still surrounds it. Temperatures ...

Water pollution continues at famous Russian lake

March 24, 2008

Despite widespread concerns about preserving the world’s largest body of fresh water, researchers report that pollution is continuing in Russia’s fabled Lake Baikal. The study is scheduled for the April 15 issue of ACS’ ...

Polluting Siberian paper mill shuts down

September 16, 2013

The polluting paper mill on the shores of Russia's Lake Baikal, the world's deepest freshwater lake, has shut and will be firing almost 800 workers this week, employees and management said on Monday.

A scientific adventure from Lake Geneva to Lake Baikal

May 15, 2013

Ultra-light aircraft are being deployed in both Switzerland and Russia as part of the Léman-Baïkal project. Lake Geneva, the largest lake in the Alps, and Lake Baikal, the world's largest lake, will be studied using new ...

Russians rally to save Lake Baikal

March 27, 2010

Russians on Saturday protested at the reopening of a paper mill on the shore of Lake Baikal which environmentalists say endangers one of the world's largest freshwater reserves.

Recommended for you

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.