Lake Balkhash: NASA image, taken 18 April 2000 by SeaWiFS
Lake Balkhash (sometimes written as Lake Balqash) is a large lake in southeastern Kazakhstan, the second largest in Central Asia after the Aral Sea. It is part of the huge west/central asian endorheic basin that includes the Caspian and Aral seas.
The lake currently covers 16,996 sq km (6,562 sq mi), but, like the Aral Sea, it is shrinking because of the diversion of water from the rivers that feed it. The maximum depth of the lake is 25.6 meters where the mean depth is 5.8 meters. The mean depth of the eastern part is 1.7 times more than that of the western. The western half of the lake is fresh water, while the eastern half is salt water.
The Balkash inland basin drains into Lake Balkash via seven rivers; chief among these is the Ili River, which brings the majority of the riparian inflow. The Ili is fed from precipitation (largely vernal snowmelt) from the mountains of China's Xinjiang region. The Balkash basin is itself endorheic - there is no outflow, and Balkash suffers from the same problems as other endorheic lakes.
The waters of the Ili and of Lake Balkash are of vital economic importance to Kazakhstan. The Ili is dammed for hydroelectric power at Kaptchagayskoye, and the river waters are heavily diverted for agricultural irrigation and for industrial purposes. Balkash itself serves as a vital fishery. As the population and degree of industrialisation in western China increases, and with traditionally poor political relations between Kazakhstan and the People's Republic, it is likely that conflict over the fate of the limited waters of the Ili will intensify. Similar international disputes over water use in the arid region led to the desiccation of the Aral Sea, and Balkhash appears to be following a similar path.
Last updated: 05-07-2005 10:16:58
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04