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Putin steps in to voice concern over threat from Mongolian hydro plants

By Anna Liesowska
29 May 2015

Russian President to 'personally' monitor situation amid fears projects could alter river flows and harm Baikal eco-system.

The plans in Mongolia to build several more plants, one involving the Selenga River, are likely to add further strain to the unique eco-system of the Baikal region. Picture: Timur Dugarzhapov

Vladimir Putin has stepped into the row over Mongolia's plans to construct controversial hydroelectric power plants that could threaten Lake Baikal.

The Russian President has joined the growing consternation over potential environmental problems from the giant facilities being built on tributary rivers leading to the lake.

Campaigners, including Greenpeace, have already pleaded with the World Bank to block funding for the plants, which will see rivers dammed and water diverted.

Levels at the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake are 40cm lower than in 2013, with water shortages in many communities already and fishermen reporting a lack of fish. The crisis was blamed by many on 'excessive drainage' for an existing hydroelectric station in Irkutsk.

Selenga River

Delta of the Selenga River at Lake Baikal. Picture: NASA

Now the plans in Mongolia to build several more plants, one involving the Selenga River, are likely to add further strain to the unique eco-system of the Baikal region.

Putin’s concern has been outlined in a letter sent from the Ministry of Natural Resources to Alexander Kolotov, the Russian coordinator of the international environmental coalition Rivers without Boundaries.

The correspondence said that the President was 'personally' taking an interest in the construction of the Mongolian plants and looking at a study of alternative options.

The Ministry of Natural Resources has also asked Mongolia to allow Russian specialists take part in the development of the construction projects. 

Sergey Donskoy, the Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology, said: 'Due to the fact that the Selenga is in the drainage basin of Baikal, the implementation of the projects would adversely affect the unique eco-system of the lake.

Shuren HPP

'Due to the fact that the Selenga is in the drainage basin of Baikal, the implementation of the projects would adversely affect the unique eco-system of the lake.' Picture: Dr Jaroslav Vrba/UNESCO-IHP

'In addition, the construction of hydropower plants will directly affect the UNESCO World Heritage Site because the Selenga River brings half of the inflow there.'

Mongolia plans to build several hydroelectric plants on rivers leading into Baikal, with a dam to be built on the River Orkhon. Further dams would be constructed on the Egiyn-Gol, Tola, and Delgermuren rivers.

The massive facilities are able to dramatically alter the flow of water in the region, with authorities looking to send much of it to the Gobi desert.

Residents in Baikal and in Mongolia, backed by environmental organisations and campaign groups, have called on the Inspection Panel of the World Bank to defer funding what they see as these 'hazardous' projects.

Activists believe the plans could pose a problem not just for the Selenga but for Lake Baikal itself, since the river is its largest tributary. They claim the fauna will suffer and say the hydroelectric plants could alter the eco-system of the entire region.

Of additional note is the fact that the World Heritage Committee has twice warned Mongolian officials that they must follow international laws and regulations governing the protection of important UNESCO sites, of which Baikal is one.

Selenga River


Baikal in danger


Selenga River

Activists believe the plans could pose a problem not just for the Selenga but for Lake Baikal itself, since the river is its largest tributary. Pictures: Rivers without Boundaries, Anna Ogorodnik 

The Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage requires that countries should not take actions that could affect World Heritage Sites in other nations.

Officials in Mongolia have insisted they have 'no plans' for a plant on the Selenga, but admitted one option does involve a tributary to that major river. The country’s parliament has already said it supports a project on the river Egiyn-Gol, a left tributary of the Selenga.

Last week, Mongolian MP Zorigt Monkhchuluun said: 'There has been lots of information in the media about building a hydroelectric power station on the Selenga.

'But you should always believe us when we say that Lake Baikal is also very treasured for us. Therefore, there will be no plant on Selenga River for sure.'

Meanwhile the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources has included Mongolian hydropower projects on the agenda of the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee, which will take place in Germany between June 28 and July 7. 

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.

Comments (2)

Very interesting topic.
Mongolia is located in heart of central Asia only country between 2 superpowers Russia and China. Mongolia have no direct access to outer world and have to obey what these 2 counties will.
Putin's worry 1-st don't wanna loose their energy hungry customers and secondly to have direct impact or influence to Mongolia through energy .
China looking easy income from this deal , they don't care about someone lake.
Remember Ukraine they where dependent on Russian gas !!!
Option for Mongolians beg Mr Putin cheap energy . For long run they need stable dependable third friend !!
Kim Hm, Vancouver BC
13/07/2016 05:18
0
0
Mongolia should recive an alternative offer from Rusia, like access and connection to Siberian hydro resources. Rusia should make easy for Mongolia to build new hydroelectric facilities in Siberia at low prices or access to the present ones at the best conditions or shared ownership of Siberian hydro plants...
Enrique, Spain
01/06/2015 03:42
7
1
1

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