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'Lake Baikal, where the ice queen cast her spell'

Pollution 'crisis' in Lake Baikal

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20 November 2015


Baikal water is unsafe for animals to drink, never mind humans. Picture: Vadim Levin

One of the wonders of the world, Baikal is Russia's jewel, but it is now facing severe pollution, according to stark new warnings. It's pristine waters are so clear, the guidebooks say, that you can peer 40 metres into the planet's deepest lake, which contains some 20% of all unfrozen freshwater on Earth, and more than the North American Great lakes combined. 

Worryingly, its famously drinkable water is drinkable no more, say scientists, at least in the southern part of the lake, in an area covering around  30% of its area. 

It is regarded as unsafe for animals to drink, never mind humans, warned a report this week on UlanMedia, which stated Baikal 'does not meet sanitary and epidemiological requirements'.

Baikal algae

Baikal algae

'The lake is covered with algae. Spirogyra is an indicator of fecal contamination.' Pictures: Arigus TV, Oleg Timoshkin

Scientist Oleg Timoshkin said: 'Baikal is clean between Cape Yelokhin and the Olkhon Strait. This is an untouched zone where you can drink water without any precautions. In all the other places there might be huge problems.

'The lake is covered with algae. Spirogyra is an indicator of fecal contamination. On top of that, all the sanitary and epidemiological indicators are far below standards.' 

Oksana Kuryok, head of the Irkutsk office of consumer rights agency Rospotrebnadzor, warned:  'There are some issues with cleansing facilities.'

Volunteers clean Baikal shore

Volunteers clean Baikal shore

Volunteers clean Baikal shore

Volunteers cleaning Baikal shores during the action ‘360 minutes for Baikal’. Pictures: 360 minutes for Baikal 

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has ordered a study to discover the cause of surface run-off of nutrients into the lake, causing a rapid rise in plant life. The lake is in 'environmental crisis' and 'requires immediate attention', said the analysis. 

The warning follows a summer of wildfires which engulfed the forested areas around Baikal, threatening its  unique wildlife and vegetation. The lake's waters are known as self-cleansing thanks to the minute endemic filter-feeding copepod called Epischura baicalensis. 


Epischura baicalensis

Map shows the area between Cape Yelokhin and the Olkhon Strait, where the water is safe for drinking(top). Endemic filter-feeding copepod Epischura baicalensis(bottom). Pictures: The Siberian Times, Evgeny Haritonov

There are zillions in the lake and they act as a filtration system, nicknamed the 'heroes of the lake', but there they are now struggling against man's encroachment. 

Dr Timoshkin, of the Limnology Institute of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Irkutsk, has previously warned of  'intensive bacteriological decay' in the lake. 'Baikal can't swallow it all. The lake is no longer the cleanest lake on the Earth, at least, (around the) the coastal line. Water preparation and cleaning facilities of the towns close to Baikal haven't been functioning properly for the last three years, if not any longer. And all this filth gets into Baikal. It is not even possible to drink water of the rivers running through the local villages.'

Comments (9)

This is a very sad event for the lake. I hope the government will take notice in this and help purify the lake.
Bobathan Sevralov, Rossiya, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
09/09/2018 01:25
Baikal is the unique Heritage of the World! We MUST save it for future generations!
Gulmira, Toronto
17/06/2017 08:52
thanks for the info.
hannah, U.S Iowa
28/04/2017 03:02
Thank you for the important information
Joonjyuk Choi, Korea
12/04/2017 04:48
Keep Lake Baikal clean!
Tex, Texas, USA
19/02/2017 23:13
I see algae like this at the east end of Lake Ontario between Robert G Wehle State Park and Lakeview Wildlife Management Area. There are large diary farms on the rivers that flow into this area of Lake Ontario. I also see that you have people throw the trash around like they do on the shores of Lake Ontario.
John Scott, Oswego County, New York
11/03/2016 09:12
But compared to any European lake, that is superclean.

Even in the Northern Pacific there is a mass plastic continent.
Enrique, Spain
24/11/2015 17:18
Thank you for your consistent reporting of the environmental issues of your area. I live near the Great Lakes of Michigan and as I see the algae encroaching everywhere I wonder what ever shall we do, for there are more and more of us around the Earth every day. I am sharing your article on my facebook page. Thank you again for always quality journalism.
Sue Kaufman, Detroit Michigan USA
21/11/2015 21:14
This water quality problème is probably an eutrophisation, because there is to many organic molecules which come from villages around this beautiful lake. I think that is the same problem that it was in "Annecy lake" in savoie région in France.Several water treatment plants was built since 1960. Now it is better and activity tourism is very important for economy of this Alpes région. Thank to Siberian Times for his interesting articles
Jocelyne, FRANCE
21/11/2015 19:50

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