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Russian government sets water level limits for Baikal Lake

In 2016, the minimum water level dropped to unprecedented 455.71 meters - 60 centimeters within four years

MOSCOW, December 30. /TASS/. The Russian government set the maximum and minimum water levels in the Baikal Lake in 2018-2020.

The regular maximum and minimum water levels in Baikal would be 457 and 456 meters, at the periods of low water the minimum would be at 455.54 meters, and the maximum level during high-water periods is set at 457.85 meters. From the 1960s, Baikal is a part of the Irkutsk hydro power plant, and the federal government sets the water maximum and minimum levels.

In 2015, the critically low water level in Baikal was the reason of an emergency alert announced in the Irkutsk Region. During that regime, the lake’s water was used to raise the water level in the Angara River. Buryatia was against the decision, as it threatened populations of delicacy whitefish in Baikal and disrupted water supplies to people, living on the lake’s eastern shore.

The low-water period in Baikal continues for a few decades, scientists say. Over the past three years, water began retreating from the eastern shore, and wells in local villages dried up. In 2016, the minimum water level dropped to unprecedented 455.71 meters - 60 centimeters within four years.

The Russian hydrometeorology service reported the water inflow in Baikal in 2017 was close to the lowest levels within 1960-2017.

According to Director of the Baikal Natural Resources Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences Endon Garmayev, the water maximum set for 2018-2020, on one hand, would allow the hydro power plant to store more water in summer to have sufficient resources in winter. On the other hand, if the decision’s consequence is flooding of the lake’s eastern shore, the lake’s cold waters will kill the unique ecology system of shallow waters in Verkhnyaya Angara’s and Kichera’s river deltas, and the Baikal Lake’s length would grow by 40-50 kilometers northbound.

Fishing ban

From October 1, Russian Agriculture Ministry banned the commercial and sport fishing for the Baikal omul [Coregonus migratorius], an endangered delicacy whitefish species that makes habitat in Lake Baikal and tributary rivers.

"The ban on commercial fishing for the Baikal omul embraces the Chivyrkui bay of Lake Baikal and the rivers flowing into it, in the Barguzin River basin, the Sor and Sor-Cherkalovo bays, and in the Selenga River Russian Federal Agency for Fisheries (Rosbybolovstvo) said in a press release. "There will be no opportunity to produce the omul in the form of by-catch either."

Sport fishing falls under the same ban, too, with the exception of ice fishing with the aid of special traditional short rods.

The Baikal fishery area includes Lake Baikal, the basins of the rivers flowing into it, the Angara River and the artificial water reservoirs located on it, as well as water reservoirs in the Republic of Buryatia, the Trans-Baikal territory and the Irkutsk regions, exclusive of ponds owned by municipal authorities and private individual.

The Russian authorities placed the omul on the list of endangered species in 2004. The risks for its populations heightened recently after a sharp shallowing and sloughing of the delta of the lake’s larges tributary river, the Selenga.

Water pipeline project

Earlier in the year, in March, Director of the Water Resources Department at the Natural Resources Ministry Dmitry Kirillov said the projects of a pipeline to pump water from the world’s deepest freshwater body, Lake Baikal, to China look like ‘scientific fantasies.’ Back then, TASS reported, citing The Guardian, the authorities in the Chinse city of Lanzhou have drawn up proposals to pump water into the chronically dry region from Siberia’s Lake Baikal. The project is expected to be proposed to the Russian side for discussion after its technical issues are resolved.

"Now all this looks like scientific fantasies from the viewpoint of the economy and ecology," Kirillov said. "No such measures [in the schemes of using water resources] are planned and their implementation is not an issue of either today or tomorrow.".