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.
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.
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. http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1980conservation1&SubjectID=1980baikal&Year=1980
Ermolaev, V. “The Living Water of Baikal.” Pravda. last modified October 8, 1977. http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1980baikal1&SubjectID=1980baikal&Year=1980
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. http://dlib.eastview.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/search/simple/doc?art=5&id=13550350
Geldern, James von. “Cleaning up Baikal.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History.
Image 1: lifefoc.com
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. http://nottinghamlakebaikal.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/bppm-waste-still-threatens-lake-baikal/