Tuesday, March 17, 2015

In Russia, a Drying Lake Threatens an 'Era of Water Wars'

Map of Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia. Lake Baikal is the world's largest freshwater lake in terms of volume with approximately 20% of Earth's fresh surface water. (Credit: mappery.com) Click to Enlarge.
In Russia's Siberian south, near the border of Mongolia, the world's largest freshwater lake is shrinking.

The surrounding communities depend on Lake Baikal, which contains about one-fifth of the earth's unfrozen freshwater reserves, for their power, water and livelihoods.

But in the past four months the lake’s water level has dropped so low that experts are calling it a crisis – one they warn could lead to conflicts in Russia over water.

The lake is now at its lowest level in over 30 years and experts predict it will keep dropping until melting mountain snow and spring rains begin to recharge the lake around late April or mid-May.

The problem, scientists and environmentalists say, is a combination of climate change and growing use of hydropower.

During last year's unusually dry summer and autumn, the lake got only 67 percent of the freshwater inflow it normally receives; experts predict in the first quarter of 2015 that figure will fall to 50 percent.

Meanwhile, hydropower stations along the lake's feeder rivers continue to draw water into their holding reservoirs at the normal rate, leaving the lake depleted, experts say.

Lake Baikal's dramatic drying already is causing tensions between the two regions that rely on it.  In the Buryat Republic, upstream of the lake, wells are running empty and the area's fishing industry is struggling with decreasing fish populations.

Downstream, the people of the Irkutsk Oblast region who depend on the lake for their water and electricity supply are demanding they continue to have access to it despite the falling water level.

"Welcome to the era of water wars in Russia," said Alexander Kolotov, Russian coordinator of the international ecological coalition Rivers Without Boundaries. "Water is becoming the country's most valuable resource."

Read more at In Russia, a Drying Lake Threatens an 'Era of Water Wars'

No comments:

Post a Comment