Lake Baikal is no longer the purest

Famed for the purest water on the planet, but this ‘is no longer true’ with ‘no drinking’ warning in southern part of lake. 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’.

‘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 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.

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.’