Chinese and South Koreans to export water from Lake Baikal

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By Marina Romanova

inside_map_closeChinese and South Korean investors plan to export bottled water from grand Siberian Lake Baikal, Russian media reports.
Last year the government of the Republic of Buryatia signed a letter of intent on the construction of two plants with the participation of investors from China (Beijing-based Jinbei Yuan) and South Korea (Seoul-based Pulmuone Co Ltd in Health and Wellness). Another Chinese technology conglomerate LeEco, which also wants to export bottled water from the lake, has entered negotiations with the governor of the Irkutsk region in July 2016, Russian Izvestia informed.

“The plant’s projected capacity is 500,000 tons a year,” head of Buryatia’s Regional Development Fund (RDF) Anatoly Dumnov said at the signing ceremony with Pulmuone firm. According to the terms of the agreement, investment in the project will reach approximately US$20 million, with South Korea viewed as the main market for its products. However, some of Baikal water will also be traded locally.

Bottled water will be carried along the Baikal-Amur mainline to the Far Eastern sea ports. The plant, covering an area of about 10 hectares, will be located in the North Baikal region, 43 km away from the town of Severobaikalsk. “The project will create over 100 workplaces,” the Fund representative added.

In the spring of 2015, a Chinese investor and the government of Buryatia agreed to carry out a facility to bottle deep Baikal water in another location – the Vydrino village of Kabansk district of Buryatia on the south banks of Lake Baikal. It said to provide 150 jobs for locals.

The investment in this five years project will reach about US$20.9 million. The productive capacity of the plant is expected to be up to 2 million tons of water a year by 2020. The water will be sold in China under the trade mark “The Well of the Earth”.

In both cases, water, as described by Buryat RDF, will be produced from wells, drilled to deeper masses of the lake.

The signing of the contract between LeEco and Irkutsk officials was not finalized, “as there were more issues to clarify”.  However, the company has attained the promise to get the full support from high Kremlin authority – Russian deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov.

“Russia is welcoming LeEco to invest in Russia and will provide the best market environment and full support,” said he while touring company’s facility in Beijing as a member of official delegation with Russian president who visited China earlier this summer.

It is reported that LeEco plans to invest US$50-100 million in Russia’s economy without specifying industries the firm want in invest. The LeEco is known as exclusive all-media rights obtainer the to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Water diversion from Lake Baikal

502a04cdc95dd9fe5c874215aaf96dd8As early as in May 2005, reported about the beginning of the discussion between China’s Ministry of Water Resources and Russian officials on considering the possibility of diverting water from Lake Baikal in Siberia through Mongolia to China’s Inner Mongolia Region. Soon after that, Gu Hao, a ministry spokesperson, said to Xinhua News Agency that there was “no plan to carry out research on a water diversion project from Lake Baikal.”

“These Chinese media statements are understood as a trial balloon to test Russian readiness to discuss Baikal water sales”, Eurasia Daily Monitor of Washington DC based Jamestown Foundation suggested in its publication “China, Russia float idea of selling Baikal water” in June 2005. Back then Russian media have expressed no interest in the Chinese leak and subsequent denial.

Reportedly, the trail balloon was encouraged by then new Water Code, drafted in February 2004 by the Russian government, allowing private ownership of rivers, lakes, and other water reservoirs. Shortly Moscow was stated that Baikal was not to be privatized. However, the Russian government has a history of backing away from its promises.

According to Chinese media reports, some two-thirds of China’s cities are facing water shortages, while more than 150 localities have already been forced to impose restrictions on water use. Some cities have reportedly started to limit the development of water-intensive industries such as textiles and paper manufacturing.

In 2014, China was the second-ranked bottled water market worldwide, after the United States, with US$18.5 billion worth of retail value sales, according to The Bottled Water in China report, published in January 2016 by the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Russia was 7th biggest state with $3.9 billion worth of retail value sales.

Ecologists and Communities Concerns

Ice-on-Lake-Baikal-03Although, the regional authorities emphasized that the production will not inflict any harm to nature, Buryatia’s eco-activists insist on holding public hearings prior to the construction of bottling water.

“No public hearings were held for any of these projects. We believe that they are necessary,” Andrei Suknev, member of the Public Chamber of Russia said, speaking at an enlarged meeting of the regional Public Monitoring Group, held in Ulan-Ude earlier this year.

However, Buryat RDF, with the reference to the scientists’ including experts from the Russian Academy of Science Limnological Institute, insists that “it is possible to produce up to 400 million tons of water per year without damage to the ecosystem of Lake Baikal; this is only 0.5 percent of the water balance of the lake”.

Despite of allegedly Russian scientists’ pro plants opinion, bottled water is more costly than tap water and far tougher on the environment. “It’s about 2,000 times more expensive than tap on average,” Peter Gleick, chief scientist at the Pacific Institute, said to the South China Morning Post. According to data from the Pacific Institute, it takes triple the amount that’s inside to manufacture the bottle.

As both Baikal bottle water projects are now under development, the environmental repercussions of the projects are yet to be studied.

The other apprehensions are voiced by the residents of two Lake Baikal regions. People from Buryat Republic and Irkutsk oblast are actively discussing the potential negative outputs of future bottle water plants. Apart from the main concern of possible environmental complications, communities disturbed by the fact that it is not the local people but commercial firms to acquire the main profit out of the projects, while the rest would “settle down to the pockets of the local bureaucrats’ infamous for their venality, thus “nothing would be spent on communities and eco projects for sustainability of the lake itself”.

Baikal the Sea

maxresdefault (1)The Baigal Dalai, which means ‘Baikal the Sea’, as local Buryat people entitled their grand lake is the planet’s deepest lake and in places is said to be about 5,387ft deep. Larger in surface area than Belgium, it contains more water than all the North American Great Lakes combined as it contains more than 20 percent of the Earth’s unfrozen surface freshwater.

The one of the world’s best aquatic wonders is said to be home to 1,700 species of plants and animals, two-thirds of which are unique could not be found anywhere in the world. It even has its own species of seal – the Baikal Nerpa.

Its pristine waters are known as self-cleansing thanks to the endemic filter-feeding copepod called Epischura baicalensis. There are zillions in the lake and they act as a filtration system.

Thought to be 25 million years old, Baikal stretches for 400 miles through south-eastern Siberia, north of the Mongolian border. Lake Baikal has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996.

Though, for the second year in a row the wildfires of the boreal forest around Baikal pose the greatest threat to the lake. Local investigative journalists blame crooked lumberers, who allegedly set fire to the woods to obtain the order for forest sanitation afterwards. Tree stems usually survive the fire and later to be sent to China, the largest importer of Russian timber.

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