Save Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal, once a beauty of nature, met its match with the expanse of industrial growth in Russia and the state’s disregard for environmental degradation. Lake Baikal holds 80% of Russia’s fresh water supply and is 1/5 of the world’s freshwater. It is known for its crystal clear water and is the deepest lake in the world, which would make one consider the lake a high commodity, but unfortunately for Russia’s government it was not. This lake was hit the hardest when the Baikal-Amur Main Line (BAM) railway was to be built right alongside of it.

Lake Baikal

When industrial growth was on its purge throughout Russia, environmental protection was not being considered. There was a lot of oil and mineral exploration, large-scale lumbering, and military and prison populations all contributed to environmental degradation in this Siberian area. The once crystal-clear water was clouded by wastes dumped into the lake from the Baikal Pulp and Paper Plant and from the construction of the BAM. How important this lake was to the environment was left aside while industrial growth loomed on. Lake Baikal is home to 1200 animal species and 1000 species of plants, and industrial growth caused many of these to suffer.

"Ever since they built the chemical factory here, all the fish have been giving black caviar."

“Ever since they built the chemical factory here, all the fish have been giving black caviar.”

Luckily, the people in the area were aware of just how important Lake Baikal was, leading to citizens protesting the government, demanding protection of this precious lake. To address these concerns, the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers created addition measures to protect the environment December 1, 1978. These measures were created in hopes of having the state better observe and supervise the status of the environment, the amount of pollution, and where the pollution is coming from. It called for the USSR State Committee on Hydrometeorology and the Environment to be responsible for watching the environment, regulating air use in cities, creating rules of how much emissions of pollutants can go into the atmosphere, and much more. This committee has the privilege of checking on these issues for any enterprise, construction, or organization, and can advise the state to suspend their operations if they deem it harmful to the environment.

While this resolution seems like it would address the problems in Lake Baikal and create more environmentally friendly industrial growth and actions, that doesn’t seem to be the case. One research biologist, V. Dezhkin, said that the ministries are prolonging the resolutions implementation as long as they can, which lets continued environmental degradation in the area continue. He includes in his letter that over 100 industrial enterprises along Lake Baikal’s shores have no purification systems, and every year millions of tons of waste are still dumped into the water, killing off plant and animal species.

Pollution in Lake Baikal continues to be a problem today.



“CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers, On Additional Measures to Intensify Conservation and Improve the Utilization of Natural Resources.” Pravda and Izvestiia. last modified January 6, 1979.

Ermolaev, V. “The Living Water of Baikal.” Pravda. last modified October 8, 1977.

Filipchenko, L. “Baikal Syndrome. Turbid Waste Water Continues to Pollute the Unique Lake.” The Current Digest of the Russian Press 41, no. 18 (1989): 28-29.

Geldern, James von. “Cleaning up Baikal.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 

Image 1:

Image 2: I. P. Abramskii: Vragi i druz’ia v zerkale Krokodila, 1922-1972. Moscow: Pravda. 1972.

Image 3: “BPPM Waste Still Threatens Lake Baikal.” last modified October 20, 2014.

7 thoughts on “Save Lake Baikal

  1. I did my post on the BAM and I touched on the pollution of Lake Baikal in my post, but this gives a more in depth understanding of the problem. Are there any current statistics on the condition of the lake? Has the issue of environmental pollution been put on the back burner in Russia?

  2. It is unfortunate how much Russia has polluted 1/5 of the worlds fresh water. I also did my post on the BAM and while reading about other railways, it seemed like pollution was the last thing they worried about. For one section of a railway that goes around lake Baikal, they had to build the tracks over an iced over part but the ice broke at one point. So there’s still a full train with all of its passengers on it at the bottom of the deepest piece of freshwater

  3. This was a very informative post, it was interesting to read about how the citizens protested the government in response to their plans and lack of environmental precaution.

  4. It really surprises me that the Soviets actually did something after the protests. Usually they just pop of a few rounds and score people off from ever protesting about it again. Even wierder, this is an ecological issue which I personally think that the Soviets could have cared less about. Great post.

  5. Apparently we’re not the only nation who had little regard for the environment during their industrial development. It’ll be interesting to see what this lake looks like in 20 years.

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