Russia’s Lake Baikal Water Level Nearing Critical Stage

The water level in Lake Baikal, the UNESCO World Heritage site that contains 20 percent of the world’s freshwater, fell to just 1 centimeter (0.39 inch) from a stage deemed critical, RIA Novosti said, citing an unidentified official.

The surface elevation of the Siberian lake declined 1 centimeter overnight to 456.01 meters (1,496 feet) as a shortage of water weighed on supplies, the state news agency reported Tuesday. The Buryatia regional government earlier warned that lake water levels had fallen 40 centimeters since 2013, according to RIA Novosti.

Under current rules, when the 636-kilometer-long (395-mile) Lake Baikal reaches the 456-meter level, restrictions on water passing through the Angarsk hydro-system may be introduced that would affect power and heat supplies to industries and facilities in the region.

If so, about 230,000 people and 2,500 buildings may be affected, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Khloponin said Feb. 2 at a meeting with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev when the lake’s water was 6 centimeters above the critical stage.

The Russian government has prepared documents to sign that would allow the use of Baikal water resources and further flows to pass to the Irkutsk hydro-electric station, according to Khloponin.

The deputy premier predicted levels of Baikal would be restored by May. The lake, known as the “Galapagos of Russia” due to its combination of fauna, age and isolation, is also the deepest with a maximum depth of about 1,700 meters, UNESCO says.

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