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The Artificial Desert Lake of Turkmenistan
Golden Age Lake


Setting the stage for the Central Asian Hydrological War — a side conflict of the future Great Sino-Indian Hydrological War — Turkmenistan has started flooding a natural depression with runoff water funneled from the country's heavily irrigated cotton fields via a network of canals. The goal is to create an artificial lake in the middle of the desert.

Because it's called the Golden Age Lake, one wonders if the country's former nutso overlord, Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niyazov, who dreamt up this “Soviet-style engineering feat,” and his (perhaps equally nutso) successor who's continuing apace with the project, got the idea for the name from the ancient nutso Nero and the artificial lake he landscaped for his Golden House.

In any case, the lake will be huge, almost 2,000 square kilometers (770 square miles) with a depth of around 70 meters (230 feet). Another estimate puts the lake at 3,500 square kilometers, or nearly the area of Utah's Great Salt Lake.

Project boosters say it will make the desert bloom; open up degraded areas for agriculture, thus increasing food production and security; attract migrating wildlife; and ensure the nation's water security in a region of severe water scarcity.

Critics counter by saying that the lake may never fill up, as the water will evaporate and leech faster that it could collect, leaving behind unevaporated salt and chemicals spread out all over the desert for winds to pick up and coalesce into toxic dustclouds that will cross borders into other countries.

Moreover, these skeptics predict that Turkmenistan will compensate by siphoning off water from Amu Darya river, which Uzbekistan relies on for irrigation, thus further angering its neighbors.

Unadulterated optimists and eternal give-damners will imagine the creation of a techno-utopia in which petroleum-guzzling treatment plants are replaced with constructed wetlands lush with genetically modified phytoremediators to purify agricultural runoff laden with pesticides and fertilizers; water-guzzling fields with post-botanical farms yielding record bushels from just a tiny amount of water; miles of canals that are no more than elongated salt ponds with an innovative water distribution and collection network; and an artificial Dead Sea with an actually thriving wildlife preserve, unironically dubbed the Hydrological Peace Park of Central Asia.

6 COMMENTS —
  • Tournament of Shadows
  • July 20, 2009 at 6:43:00 PM CDT
  • Minor correction: Gurbaguli Berdymukamedov is the (perhaps equally nutso) successor to former president Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niyazov, not the other way around.


  • Alexander Trevi
  • July 20, 2009 at 7:00:00 PM CDT
  • Yes, quite right. Thanks for the correction!


  • Tournament of Shadows
  • July 20, 2009 at 10:10:00 PM CDT
  • Thanks for a fascinating post! Its always nice to hear about how the situation surrounding the Aral sea is getting worse/crazier.


  • Georgia
  • July 23, 2009 at 9:33:00 AM CDT
  • Interesting. Rachel Maddow talked about Turkmenistan's current and recent-former leaders on last night's show.


  • Anonymous
  • September 24, 2009 at 6:18:00 AM CDT
  • This is a service to wild life. I welcome this.


  • Anonymous
  • May 16, 2014 at 7:09:00 PM CDT
  • This water has to go somewhere as once it is used for irrigation it is too salty to be reused for crops. As long as Turkmenistan does not take additional water out of the Amu Darya I think that an artificial lake or water recharge is normal practise. I believe you should not confuse your dislike of the current leaders of Turkmenistan (probably largely cultural misunderstanding anyway) with the realities of agricultural science.


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