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Fourth largest lake now dried up and gone, leaving behind toxic legacy of pesticide runoff: Is Lake Mead next?

Aral Sea

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(NaturalNews) For the first time in 600 years, the eastern portion of the Aral Sea has dried up. The Asian freshwater lake once teamed with fish and wildlife, ships and sailboats, but now it is choked dry, drained of every last drop, the bottom showing, flaking off with pesticide residue that now kicks up as dust in the wind. Decades of diverting water for irrigation purposes has led the Aral Sea to its catastrophic end -- a barren wasteland.

Aral Sea expert Philip Micklin reported the news to NASA: "It is likely the first time it has completely dried in 600 years, since medieval desiccation associated with diversion of Amu Darya [river] to the Caspian Sea."

The dried-up Aral Sea is a lesson to be learned in irrigation, farming and water conservation, but will countries around the world listen to its legacy? Is Lake Mead in Nevada, USA, on the same course? What about Lake Powell, which is upriver from Lake Mead? Are these two freshwater lakes also on the path to extinction?

Aral Sea once teemed with lakeside communities, fisheries, farms; is now nothing more than a cesspit of pesticide runoff

Over the last 50 years, the eastern Aral Sea experienced a rapid decline in water due to robust irrigation practices. The slow drainage combined with the latest drought acted like a giant straw, slurping out the last remnants of water.

What was once a 26,000-square-mile lake is now an empty plot of land, a desert, speckled with old ships and cargo that was once lost at sea. Communities that once thrived along its shores have become ghost towns. Fisheries and muskrat pelt industries once supplied the Soviet Union with a sixth of its fish catch. Now there is nothing to catch, no jobs and withering farming communities.

The slow and steady draining of the sea began in the 1960s, when the Soviet Union initiated a major water-diversion project, diverting two major rivers to make way for farmland in the arid desert. 20,000 miles of canals were dug, 45 dams constructed and more than 80 reservoirs formed to make way for cotton and wheat farming. The plan worked in the moment, but poor water conservation planning made sure that the plan was historically short lived. With each passing decade, the water was drained off and not equally replenished, as agricultural chemicals seeped into the basin.

The lake's rapid decline began in 2000, when the northern and southern parts separated and formed into smaller portions. Just a year later, the southern lobe of water separated into two parts. By 2009, this cut off the flow of the Amu Darya River. Now, in 2014, the Eastern Aral Sea has vanished, becoming desert wasteland. The remaining lakebed has quickly become a public health hazard. A toxic legacy of agricultural chemicals now flake off as dust, taking to the wind.

Is Lake Mead in Nevada on the same course?

History tends to repeat itself, because societies are unwilling to confront the root of a problem and be honest with their selves. For America, Nevada's Lake Mead is heading down the same course of events as the dying Aral Sea. Lake Mead, sitting downriver from Lake Powell on the Colorado River, is being drained just as the Aral Sea was. In just over a decade, the lake has receded by 60 percent due to increasing droughts and unsustainable irrigation practices. With the drought in full force, it's now common for Lake Mead to lose three feet of depth every month. In 1937, Lake Mead hit an all-time low, measuring at 1,101 feet above sea level, according to MNN.com. Today, that record has been broken; the lake has fallen to its lowest levels in recorded history. Lake Mead is very well on its way to looking like the now dried-up Aral Sea. Can the shift be stopped in time?





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