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"Saving the lake is a common thing"

What can the decline in the level of Lake Baikal cause?

The problem of the state of the Baikal ecosystem is always topical, and recently it has become particularly acute. Scientists, public figures, officials, industrialists discuss changes in the level of Lake Baikal, caused not only by natural, natural causes, but also by human activities. It is clear that the work of large enterprises on the Baikal territory can not be stopped. However, not only can, but also need to objectively assess the negative effects of their work and think about how to minimize them.

"Saving the lake is a common thing"

16 January at a press conference, the head of the Russian Hydrometeorological Center Roman Vilfand said that the level of Lake Baikal fell six centimeters below the minimum threshold value. In the past four years, reminded Wilfand, the problem of reducing the level of Lake Baikal in everyone's ears. However, now it is lower than in 2015-2017 years. At the same time, according to forecasts of experts, the fall in the level of Lake Baikal will continue - the lowest it will be by May.

Meanwhile, speaking of the fall of the Baikal level below the critical level, Roman Vilfand had in mind the mark at 456 meters along the Pacific elevation system. It is such a maximum permissible range of fluctuations established by the decree of the Government of the Russian Federation from 26 March 2001 year "On the Limit Values ​​of the Water Level in Lake Baikal in the Conduct of Economic and Other Activities". However, now the operation of this document is suspended until 2021 year. And at the very end of 2017 another regulation was published "On the Limit Values ​​of the Water Level in Lake Baikal at 2018-2020". And it already defines the other limits of permissible fluctuations: from 455,54 to 457,85 m in low-water and high-water periods, respectively. That is, if guided by a new resolution, a critical reduction in the level of Lake Baikal, which Wilfand spoke of, does not seem to have happened.

In the resolution, the need to expand the boundaries of fluctuations in the Baikal level is explained by the fact that it "will avoid the threat of an emergency and provide water, heat and energy to the population and economic and social facilities in the region." But experts are sure that such a decision has no scientific justification and can become disastrous for the Baikal ecosystem.

In the materials for the meeting of the interdepartmental commission on December 9, 2014, at which the issue of possible consequences of a decrease in the level of Lake Baikal was discussed in detail, the following is indicated. “A decrease in the water level below the 456 m mark contradicts the requirements for the conservation of aquatic biological resources, which are taken taking into account the natural seasonal fluctuations in the level of a water body in the annual cycle. From spring to autumn, the water level should gradually rise (from mid-April to 15-20 cm per month until June), and from autumn to spring - gradually decrease (by 10-15 cm per month). At the same time, the difference between the spring and autumn levels of Lake Baikal should not exceed 1 meter, ”the document says.

As noted further, a decrease in the level of Lake Baikal below 456 m is unfavorable for the reproduction of both omul and spring-spawning small fish species. The fact is that omul larvae go down in the main spawning rivers (Selenga, Upper Angara, Barguzin) from April to June. Moreover, most of the larvae roll down in 10-15 days during the period of ice drift. “With a low level of Lake Baikal and a weak May flood in the Selenga River, a significant part of omul larvae feeding in the hollow reservoirs of the lower part of the delta may be deprived of the opportunity to go into shallow water and will be eaten away by predators or die. The high level and strong May floods in the river are also unfavorable for the survival of juvenile omul due to their rapid removal into the cold Baikal waters. Optimal for the survival of omul larvae and juveniles is a slow increase in the level of Baikal from the end of April and throughout May, ”the experts emphasize.

That is, the survival of the population directly depends on the level of Lake Baikal, the document says. Among other things, a water level that does not correspond to a natural change negatively affects those lake inhabitants that feed on the omul. And if the water level in spring and summer is reduced to the level of 455,8 m, then, according to the calculations of the FSI "Baikalrybvod", "damage to aquatic bioresources as a result of the death of feed organisms (only zoobenthos) in the depleted areas of the bottom of Lake Baikal (34 900 ha) will be 1497,2 t , the amount of capital investment needed to restore the projected damage will amount to 1,262 billion rubles. "

Lowering the water level in Lake Baikal, scientists emphasize, can lead to "irreversible degradation of the unique ecological system of the lake." Therefore, at least additional studies are needed, in which the question of the admissibility of such an impact on the ecosystem of the lake would be posed. But there is no such research.

- Instead, the Institute of Water Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences was commissioned a job that is extremely dubious in its tasks. The contractors were not asked to decide how to optimally adjust the Baikal level for reasons of its protection, but to justify the maximum expansion of the permissible range of lake level fluctuations, "says Evgeny Simonov, international coordinator of the ecological coalition" Rivers without Borders ". - No environmental issues were taken into account. However, it was impossible to say with certainty: this "scientific justification", referred to by every official, is not available for reading by interested citizens. The scientists then strongly rebelled, there were many meetings, but they were promised that now this work will be finished, and then they will prepare a new one in which everything that must be taken into account "about ecology" will be taken into account. But it was not ordered to anyone.

In recent years, acute consequences of the fall in the level of Lake Baikal and residents of coastal villages.

- I myself come from a fishing village, my mother lives there now. So I saw enough of the drying wells and the burning peat bogs. We were told that there is supposedly no connection between the level of Baikal and groundwater, except in the 100-meter coastal zone. But it's where people live, "says Natalia Tumureeva, a member of the Buryat regional association for Baikal. - In general, it is enough to talk with the old-timers. They will tell you that after the construction of the hydropower plant, many problems immediately arose. Omulya, for example, became smaller. For 40 years after the launch of the HPP, nature has more or less adapted to the new conditions, and now it is "offered" to adjust to the next changes.


There are no extensive studies of what are the main threats to the Baikal ecosystem today. But there are others - proving: frequent and far from natural fluctuations in the level of Lake Baikal began just after the construction of the Irkutsk hydropower plant and other hydroelectric stations of the Angara cascade.

- Before the construction of the dam for 82 year of observations of Baikal, that is, with 1868 for 1949 years, the meter amplitude of the level fluctuation was exceeded only 19, or 23% of the total number of years. For 55 years after the construction of the dam, from 1960 to 2014 years, 20 cases of exceeding the meter amplitude, that is already 36% from the indicated period, are recorded, - says Igor Shkradyuk, coordinator of the program for the ecologization of industry of the Center for Wildlife Conservation. - And in the period of 1983-1995 the Baikal level exceeded the level in 457 m 10 times. In total, during the operation of the Irkutsk hydropower station, the level was exceeded 17 times. However, only in the high-water 1985 and 1988 years the excess of the normal retaining level was justified by the existing hydrological conditions. As a consequence, significant anthropogenic impacts on the economic system of the Baikal region, primarily on the coast of the Republic of Buryatia and the ecosystem of the lake itself, were noted.

It turns out, the connection between the work of power engineers and fluctuations in the level of Lake Baikal is direct. Actually, the last decree was adopted in order to facilitate their life. According to Igor Shkradyuk, a decrease in the Baikal level by half a meter makes it possible to generate an additional 200 million kWh of electric power from the hydropower stations of the Angara cascade and to receive additional revenue during the year at about 5 billion rubles.

- The term "shallow water" and "high water" are used in the resolution, but nowhere is legally fixed what exactly they mean - at what level does both begin. This was repeatedly pointed out by specialists, including the staff of the Energy Institute, which is just engaged in justifying the activities of the hydropower plant, "adds Natalia Tumureeva. - In other words, the energy sector will actually "by eye" determine the normal level of Lake Baikal, lowered or elevated. And here, various kinds of abuse and speculation are possible.

In the energy company En + - the owner of the plant - with statements of environmentalists do not agree. There they talk about the New Energy program, aimed at the modernization of the hydroelectric power station (hydro plants will produce more "clean energy" by passing the same volume of water through the turbines) and report on numerous environmental activities.

“En + has always strictly complied with and continues to comply with the instructions of the water regulator regarding the volume of water flow through the dams of the company's HPPs. <…> According to scientists, the low water level on Lake Baikal may be associated with global climatic changes. Previously, the main version of the reasons for low water was cycles that were calculated by mathematicians. But to assume that power engineers are to blame for the lack of water is at least erroneous ... During periods of low water, the Irkutsk hydroelectric power station works to provide sanitary releases necessary for the operation of water supply systems in cities ” said, in particular, the media Elena Vishnyakova, director of public relations company En +.

However, Igor Shkradyuk cites such figures. By decision of the basin council, the flow of water through the Irkutsk HPP is now limited to 1300 cubic meters per second (41 cubic kilometers per year). At the same time, in 2015, the inflow of water to Baikal was only 35,2 cubic kilometers per year (an average of 1116 cubic meters per second).

- That is, with the water flow through the HPP of 1300 cubic meters per second, the Baikal level will continue to fall. How strong the drought will be and how long it will last is unknown, the expert concludes.

At the same time, there is no need for just such a flow of water. As explained by Igor Shkradyuk, at one time the volume of water consumption in 1300 cubic meters per second was due to the work of several large enterprises, which supplied electricity to the Irkutsk HPP. Now some of them do not work at full strength, others switched to technologies that reduce energy consumption. And now it's enough to spend 1100 cubic meters per second - by the way, it was such standards that were originally set in the project of Irkutsk HPP.

- Reduction of the minimum water flow to the sanitary discharge, as determined by the Irkutsk HPP project (1050 m3 / s), is possible with very little cost from Irkutskenergo. Legally, this requires the development of new rules for the use of the water resources of the Angara cascade of reservoirs, including the new dispatch schedule of the Irkutsk HPP, Igor Shkradyuk is sure.

For several years the issue of deepening water intakes belonging to Irkutskenergo is also being discussed. But there are no concrete actions on the part of power engineers here.

"When the question arises, how can we now observe that level of fluctuations in Lake Baikal that would not have harmed the lake and at the same time allowed people to live normally, the first decision that suggests - to deepen or somehow reconstruct the water intakes on the Angara," says Yevgeny Simonov . "But it takes time, money, effort, so another decision was made - drain the water as before and thereby lower the level of Lake Baikal, so that intakes operate smoothly. At the same time, judging by the documents of government agencies, at the beginning of the crisis in 2015 it was assumed that intakes in the near future would still be deepened - this would allow the Baikal system to more closely correspond to the minimum flow in the Angara, and now it is much higher in the arid years than in the natural situation: 1300 cubic meters per second against the previous 900, the difference is more than 30%. If the intakes were deepened then in 2015 year, then the lake level fall below the "limit mark" established in the 2001 year could easily be avoided.

"Instead of deepening water intakes, the energy sector has taken the path of least resistance and lobbied for a resolution that removes many of the restrictions," adds Natalia Tumureeva. - But this Irkutsk hydro power plant must adapt to nature, and not the nature to adapt to the economic needs of power engineers. A decree just dictates that nature do this. In addition, until now we have not implemented the principle of priority of biodiversity conservation over other ways of using Baikal. This principle should be prescribed in the Rules for the Use of Water Resources, but this is not yet available.

Ecologists are also disgusted by the fact that in making such important decisions as changing the range of fluctuations in the Baikal level, no comprehensive environmental assessment was conducted and public opinion was not taken into account. In 2017, environmentalists and Russian environmental authorities after five years of efforts were able to achieve a suspension of the project for the construction of hydroelectric power stations in neighboring Mongolia - its implementation could ruin Baikal. The project will not resume at least until the results of a comprehensive regional environmental assessment of the water management system in the Lake Baikal basin and possible impacts on the natural ecosystems of the Mongolian hydroelectric power stations are received and publicly discussed. In addition to delaying risky projects, such an assessment is also an opportunity to find at least a million dollars in the World Bank for a thorough study of the situation and elaboration of more detailed rules for the protection of water ecosystems in the Baikal basin. Given the declining funding for such research in Russia, this is a very timely tool. But now it turns out that getting such expertise in Russia is more difficult than in Mongolia.

- It amazes me that all fundamentally important decisions on Lake Baikal are taken at all without taking into account the opinions of local residents. No public hearings, no national gatherings. Because "in Moscow they know better." Because "experts must deal with this," says Alexander Kolotov, a member of the Angara-Baikal Basin Council. "We, the public, found it easier to get the World Bank in Washington and neighboring Mongolia to organize public hearings in Baikal villages about the potential impact on the Baikal of the yet-built Selenga hydropower stations than to reach the owners of the operating Irkutsk HPP and the Russian government, real impact on Lake Baikal.

It is clear at the same time that only the search for the guilty will not solve the problem. It is necessary to negotiate and seek a solution to the problem.

"It's not just the energy that is to blame for what is happening on Lake Baikal: forests are cut down on the Baikal Territory, the tourist flow is sometimes uncontrollable - all this also does not benefit the ecosystem," says Natalia Tumureeva. "But we must save the situation together, do a common cause, and not shift responsibility to each other."
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