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Extreme warnings issued that Lake Baikal could 'drain dry like the Aral Sea'

By Olga Gertcyk
25 May 2016

The lake's level is falling, and Mongolian hydro plans would disrupt inflows, and could cause a 'tsunami' of water, say campaigners. 

'Baikal might share the destiny of the Aral Sea.' Picture: Zhanat Kulenov

Newspaper Izvestia this week was blunt in assessing the eco-damage threat to Baikal, a natural reservoir which contains around 20% of the world's unfrozen freshwater.

'Baikal might share the destiny of the Aral Sea,' it stated. 'Construction of three hydro power stations on the Selenga River and its tributaries can cause the unique lake to dry out.'

The 25 million year old lake - a UNESCO world heritage site - is 'on the edge of environmental catastrophe and if certain measures are not taken, it might disappear just like the Aral sea.'

The impact of proposed Mongolian hydro projects could also be to threaten the Buryatian capital city, Ulan-Ude, in the event of an accident to one of three planned dams. 

Environmental activist Sergey Shapkhayev warned: 'Potential damage from the third hydro power station which will be located on the Eg River (a Selenga tributary) could cause a huge catastrophe. Hydrological experts believe that this power station is the most dangerous of all.

Aral Sea


Aral Sea

The 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. Pictures: Anna Baranova, Satellite images USGS

'This power station will be located in the seismically active part of Mongolia. And any seismic activity can cause  all the stored water to wash away part of Mongolia and in half a day it would reach Ulan-Ude' - a city with a population of 415,000. At the same time, speed of water will be compatible to tsunami.'

The warnings come amid new hopes in Russia that ways can be found to persuade Mongolia not to go ahead with the the hydro schemes - see our earlier story here

Izvestia said that the claims about an Aral-like denuding of Baikal were aired at a closed doors meeting at the Energy Ministry. Crucial to the dams not being built are an offer acceptable to Mongolia of guaranteed cheap energy - from Russia. 

Another session held at the Ministry of Natural Resources in April heard that the Mongolian plans would lead to atmospherical, biological, hydrological and geological changes. 

'The quality of water, its ice and temperature regime will also change,' according to this account. 'Additional emission of greenhouse gases will increase the threat of flooding of some areas. The migration of animals, rare fish species in particular, will also be negatively affected. Apart from that, the implementation of these hydro-technical projects will cause additional seismic, epidemiological and other risks.'

Egyin-Gol HPP


Egyin-Gol HPP

'Potential damage from the third hydro power station which will be located on the Eg River (a Selenga tributary) could cause a huge catastrophe. Pictures: Eg River Hydroelectric Project

Other warns suggested an acute risk of pollution in the Selenga feeding into Baikal. And separately, the existing fall of the lake's level has already led to wells running dry  located as far as 300 kilometres from Baikal.

Residents of 13 settlements on the Baikal shore are also facing difficulties with water supply. 

Oleg Lebedev, a member of the Higher Environmental Council, and a deputy of the Russian parliament, said:  'We have unique scientific potential and expertise in construction, and that is why it is possible to transfer power from Siberia and develop new export agreements. 

'Otherwise less than 1,000 GW of power will destroy the largest unfrozen water reservoir on the Earth, (and) will destroy the delta of the Selenga River and cut access to fresh water in Buryatia and Irkutsk region.'

Andrey Grozin, of the Institute of the CIS countries, warned: 'The hydrological resources of Mongolia are not sufficient to produce significant power capacities. The three rivers discussed now do not have particular potential to generate enough power to sort out the electricity deficit. 

Shuren HPP


Selenga's springhead in Mongolia


Baikal in danger

'The three rivers in Mongolia discussed now do not have particular potential to generate enough power to sort out the electricity deficit.' Picture: Dr Jaroslav Vrba/UNESCO-IHP, lusika33, Rivers without Borders

'Of course, it's easier to build a hydro power station - green energy - but it's clearly an exaggeration to consider that hydro power can become main power source for Mongolia.'

Irina Maksimova, scientific secretary of the Baikal Scientific Council, claimed an unprecedented 'catastrophe' would befall Baikal.

The comparison with the Aral Sea -  which was a giant endorheic lake lying between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan - appears far-fetched even allowing for a grave threat now facing Baikal. 

The 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. Yet before it suffered grievous ecological damage, the volume of water in the Aral was some 1089 cubic kilometres. By 2007 it has reduced to just 75 cubic kilometres. 

By comparison Baikal - covering an area larger than Belgium - contains some 23,615 cubic kilometres of water.

Comments (7)

Lake Baikal has its very own system of hydrology that can never be appreciated elsewhere. That aside, Lake Baikal benefits not just the whole world, but the neighboring residents who have traversed/hunted/ fished and loved Lake Baikal for many generations. It is clear that no artificial aquifer can be sustained by diverting Lake Baikal. Any longevity calculations would be capricious at best, because they simply are uncalculable
cathy dunn, church hill US
16/05/2017 06:07
0
0
Save Lake Baikal - do not allow pipeline to be built to China, and keep the lake as pristine as possible and free from pollution. I have tried to follow the happenings regarding Lake Baikal for many decades because it is the largest fresh water lake in the world, and these are my thoughts on the matter.

Cindy (US Social Security number: 121-50-8739
Cindy Minard, United States of America
07/03/2017 22:05
0
0
To resolve this matter in an amicable and sustainable way there needs to be a recognition of the values and needs of all the regional parties involved. There is no room for "beggar they neighbour" policies. The riparian issues concerning the water catchment areas need to be evaluated, recognised and addressed, as does Mongolia's need for energy security. By open and frank discussion, it is not beyond the wit and wisdom of man to reach a settlement that has something for everyone.
Simon Robinson, Blackburn, England
17/06/2016 14:36
3
0
Baïkal lake is a TREASURE of Siberian people . Every one must protect it and well think about . Please, l ne faut pas jouer aux "apprentis sorciers" avec un aussi magnifique patrimoine de la SIBERIE et de ses enfants.
Jocelyne, FRANCE
09/06/2016 14:33
6
0
The political balance seems rather obvious. The dam and power station requires Chinese money to build. Beijing can and should cut a deal with Siberia and withdraw the funding.

(a) Extend the free land program to Chinese emigres (one hectare per person) to around the Lake Baikal area, provided that they invest in agricultural enterprises, supported with Lake Baikal water.

(b) If (a) does not fly, at least loosen emigration by marriage, and encourage cross border marriages.

Ultimately go with a development plan that enriches both the China and Russian sides.
Zhuubaajie, Hong Kong
09/06/2016 03:16
0
2
沒有蒙古人的狂飆,世人的眼光大概不會注意到極地風光.
李肖先, 中華民國
08/06/2016 08:24
0
3
Thank you to everyone carefully scrutinizing all aspects of each of these hydropower projects. I agree with the concern that a catastrophic impact such as befell the Aral Sea is a realistic comparison. As people point out, the downstream rivers actually do not have a high power generating capacity and one of the projects is in a high risk seismic zone. From a mass balance perspective, would you not be needing to somehow pull more out of Lake Baikal to keep filling the resevoirs in order to provide high enough flows through the dams/power station than is currently flowing in? Or, another way to ask is possibly, how would you actually keep the reservoirs full?
Pamela Tetarenko, League City, USA
28/05/2016 07:55
10
0
1

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