Lake Baikal could 'become as dry as Lake Aral'

Lake Aral, once one of the four largest lakes in the world, has substantially dried up due mainly to Soviet planners diverting rivers to use for irrigation projects. Before it suffered extreme ecological damage, the volume of water in the Lake Aral was some 1089 cubic kilometers. By 2007 that has dwindled to just 75 cubic kilometers.

By comparison Lake Baikal, located in Southern Siberia, north of the Mongolian border and covering an area larger than The Netherlands, contains some 23,615 cubic kilometers of water. Around 20% of the world's unfrozen freshwater is stored in that lake, but its level is falling. Fast.
Lake Baikal’s water level is already 26 cm below its minimum required level. Russian's Irkutsk hydro-electric water usage is 1,300 cubic meters per second. However, under the existing legislation, this volume is prohibited when the water level in Lake Baikal falls below the critical level. But, Russia has a solution to this problem: it changes the legislation.

Around the lake, wildfires rage frequently, leading locals to describe the scene as feeling “like doomsday.” Other problems are phosphate run-off from unplanned tourist developments, poor sewage treatment, rampant growth of algae mats and die-offs of sponges and mollusks.

Now, Mongolia wants to build three hydro-electric dams in the Selenga river which 80 provides percent of the water flowing into Lake Baikal. If those plans go ahead, that body of water is at risk of “an ecological catastrophe”, claim Russian experts.

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