Monday, March 16, 2015

In Russia, a drying lake threatens an 'era of water wars'

Angelina Davydova in Reuters via the Thomson Reuters Foundation: 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.

...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.

..."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."....

The village of Enkhaluk on the eastern shore of Lake Baikal, shot by Аркадий Зарубин, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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