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Calls to lower height of Lake Baikal to solve water crisis in Siberia rejected

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17 December 2014


An increased discharge from Baikal – the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake – would drop the water level below the 456metre minimum. Picture: The Siberian Times 

Russian officials have refused proposals to lower the height of Lake Baikal despite claims a major Siberian city will run out of water early next year.

The government in Irkutsk Oblast last month called for an increased discharge from the vast lake because they feared not being able to provide water for Angarsk by spring 2015.

But the suggestion has so far been rejected by the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources, which says more analysis of the situation needs to be carried out.

An increased discharge from Baikal – the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake – would drop the water level below the 456metre minimum decreed by Russian Government.

There are also potential environmental impacts on fish and other wildlife living there, with estimates saying that damage alone could cost one billion roubles (£9.1million).

Baikal water shortage

Baikal water shortage

Angarsk - Lenin Square

Dam on the Irkutsk Reservoir: aerial view and view from Irkutsk side; Angarsk city. Pictures: rosreestr, Aleksey Nazarov,

Sergey Donskoy, the Minister for Natural Resources and Ecology, said: 'We don’t consider the suggestion from Irkutsk Oblast to lower the level of Baikal grounded enough.

'I can’t be positive about the proposal until we’re provided with detailed analysis about the outcomes of a low water level and the risks that may arise in spring. It’s necessary to finalise this analysis by next spring.'

Thought to be 25 million years old, Lake Baikal stretches for 400 miles through south-eastern Siberia, north of the Mongolian border. It contains 20 per cent of the world’s unfrozen freshwater reserves and in places is said to be about 1,700 metres deep.

The proposals to vastly increase the water discharge has caused great division across the region and concerned environmentalists.

Officials in the Republic of Buryatiya, in eastern Siberia, are against lowering the lake’s level below 456metres, saying it would have a negative impact on the endangered omul fish.

There are fears that repeatedly changing the discharge would cause a degradation of the ecological system in the region.

Magnificent lake Baikal

Early morning on lake Baikal
Lake Baikal. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya

Experts also insist that the water shortage in Irkutsk Oblast is not just linked to the levels the lake but an increased discharge from the region’s hydropower station.

Nevertheless, the regional government in Irkutsk claims there will not be enough water to supply the city of Angarsk – which has a population of 240,000 people – and a number of industrial enterprises in the region.

Any final decision would be made by the Russian Government.

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