Intelligent engineering and planning brings (some) life back to the Aral Sea

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One of the horrors of the Aral Sea was that for decades it served as a sink for pesticides and fertilisers sprayed on cotton fields irrigated by the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers. When the lake began to dry up, it exposed the pesticide and fertiliser-laden salts which were carried by the wind on to neighbouring populations. They now suffer from a very high incidence of lung and kidney diseases as well as certain cancers - almost certainly from inhaling the dust.


Look! There’s more fresh water again! I have an idea… let’s pump it out to grow cotton in the desert! The folly of man.

The cynic in me wants to scoff at this and complain about how humans just want to engineer our way out of every problem… but engineering ourselves out of problems is what humans have done for the last 10,000 years.

I think there are some unique circumstances that made this story possible though. The solution was fairly straightforward - build a dam and fix some dikes - and the 86 million to finance it through the World Bank is peanuts. There was a cut and dry economic case, and nobody was profiting from the disappearing lake.

I don’t think there are similarly easy answers for e.g. what to do about pervasive eutrophication from agriculture in the US midwest that has interacted with other pressures (invasive species, climate change, industrial pollution) to decimate a good number of North American inland fisheries. Or look at all the water that is diverted in the Colorado River drainage, to the point where it often doesn’t reach the sea - again, there aren’t easy solutions there.

While it’s good to celebrate success, only 10% of the Aral Sea’s original surface has been restored, and there is no telling what the future might bring. But scoffing at engineered solutions would be short-sighted, just as pretending that every environmental issue can be overcome by technological prowess would be folly.


Shouldn’t this be “Intelligent engineering and planning BRING”?

Some people think that way about the Great Lakes. Not to mention underground aquifers.


No mention of the fact that the Soviets used to do biological weapon research on an isolated island in the Aral Sea that is no longer an island?
edited to add


Nor mention the many entertaining and diverse paddle- and table- based games local ducks now develop in repurposed facilities where Soviet-era rental practices seek shared-office agreements where new communes can develop chemicals of cheer to the many from the coveted location. Plus they sell graphene oxide out back.

meanwhile: 84 million dollars is the cost of speculatively running the alternate books tracking (or not) 84 billion set aside for oversight patrols off west of the dam, in case a present administration may ask.

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