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Where is one-fifth of the world’s fresh water hiding?

Where is one-fifth of the world’s fresh water hiding?

A parched planet looks on in envy. Water is running short across the globe and countries are fighting the War of the Straws, all vying for the most unique of resources. The mad scramble for water can be felt everywhere — almost.

But hidden in plain sight lies a liquid Shangri-La — the oldest, deepest, and most voluminous lake on Earth. Go 2,600 miles east of Moscow into the depths of Siberia and you will find one-fifth of the world’s fresh water — the crescent-shaped Lake Baikal.

Some lakes are wider, some are longer; none are deeper — it’s a mile to the bottom in some spots. (And located in a rift zone, Baikal is getting deeper each year.) It averages almost 2,500 feet to the bottom and the waters are remarkably unspoiled and pristine. The clear-water lake was visited by famed author Anton Chekhov in 1890, and he was stunned by the glassy waters: “The water of Lake Baikal is the color of turquoise, more transparent than the Black Sea. They say that in deep places you can see the bottom … and I myself have seen to such a depth, with rocks and mountains plunged in the turquoise-blue, that it sent a shiver all over me.

From the Smithsonian: “Today, Lake Baikal contains some 20 percent of the Earth’s lake and river water, making this Russian giant comparable in volume to the entire Amazon basin. So huge is Baikal that it reportedly takes an average of 330 years for a single water molecule to flow through it, from inlet to outlet.”

From Conde Nast: “Baikal holds fully one-fifth of all the world’s liquid freshwater. If all the rivers in the world could somehow be diverted to drain Baikal at once, it would still take over a full year to empty, and the resulting deluge could provide the entire population of Earth with drinking water for fifty years.”

The massive lake is locked in the Baikal Mountains, and takes approximately four months to walk around at a normal pace. (The surface area of Baikal is about the size of Belgium.)

Around the world, ideology, politics, agriculture and energy will fight ever more desperately for a spot at the water trough — making the water bliss of Baikal all the more unique.


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