Environmental issues are a major interest of Kelley’s, especially pollution, climate change, deforestation and endangered species.

The world is running out of fresh water!

Many of the lakes on this list will dry up within years (a few already have, more or less), but some may take decades to disappear entirely. The reasons vary, but most will expire because of drought, deforestation, overgrazing, pollution, climate change or water diversions—or all of the aforementioned. Will anybody care? People who live near the lakes and depend on them for making money and/or feeding themselves will almost certainly care a great deal. Most likely, scientists the world over will find this issue concerning as well. How about you?

This list is written in no particular order and includes both lakes and seas—that is, large bodies of water (fresh or salty) surrounded by land.

Aral Sea : Apparel insider

1. Aral Sea

Located between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the Aral Sea is another endorheic lake and one of the four largest lakes in the world as recently as the 1989. Once covering an area of over 26,000 square miles, the Aral Sea is now only about 10 per cent of its original size and has split into four separate bodies of water. The main reason for this desiccation is that since the 1940s much of the water that feeds the lake has been diverted for agricultural usage, primarily to grow cotton, rice, melons and cereal. Unfortunately, this water diversion has mostly destroyed the fishing industry of the lake.

Moreover, the poorly constructed irrigation canals used for the diversion have wasted 30 to 75 per cent of the diverted water. Now the Aral Sea’s remaining water is much saltier and more polluted and therefore practically useless. But the people in the area seem resigned to the fate of the Aral Sea, so it may dry up entirely any day now.

Aerial view of Lake Chad

2. Lake Chad

Dramatic environmental change has hit Africa in recent decades, and the shrinking of Lake Chad is a primary aspect of this pending catastrophe. Once the size of the Caspian Sea, Lake Chad, located in west-central Africa, has lost about 95 per cent of its water since the 1960s. Considered an endorheic body of water (or closed hydrological system), Lake Chad is a shallow lake (30 to 40 feet deep) in an arid grassland and, at one time, covered nearly 400,000 square miles – but that was about 5000 BCE, way before recent times of drought and human expansion in sub-Saharan Africa. Consequently, the lake’s surface area has shrunk to about 520 square miles, though since 2007 its girth has rebounded somewhat, so maybe Lake Chad won’t disappear entirely any time soon. But if issues such as overuse by people, climate change and desertification are not addressed, it may vanish sooner rather than later.

Penuelas Lake

3. Penuelas Lake

In June 2022, Reuters reported that central Chile is mired in a catastrophic 13-year drought, the worst in at least 400 years! Once a body of water comprising enough water to fill 38,000 Olympic swimming pools, Penuelas Lake has now almost entirely dried up, causing dire water shortages in Valparaiso and other Chilean towns and cities. Experts blame the drought on greenhouse gases thinning of the ozone layer over Antarctica, which reduces the number of storms along the coast of Chile. Agricultural researchers at the University of Chile report that the region will have 30 per cent less water over the next 30 years, so the drought could last decades longer!

Sawa Lake before and after

4. Sawa Lake

Once a tourist attraction, a wetlands area for migrating birds, as well as a source of drinking water for the city of Samawa in southern Iraq, Sawa Lake, since it’s a closed body of water with no inlet or outlet, has lived on borrowed time for centuries, if not thousands of years. Its only sources of water have been rainfall and water seeping from the nearby Euphrates River, but drought and diverted ground water have spelled doom for this pitiful, shrinking lake. Now Sawa Lake is little more than a mud puddle in a vast arid plain with trash scattered in heaps no person or government entity seems to care about cleaning up. Since 2014, the lake has been designated as a protected Ramsar Site, which lists it as wetlands of international importance—so, one may wonder, is Sawa Lake gone forever?

Lake Poopo

5. Lake Poopo

Located in the Bolivian Altiplano Mountains, Lake Poopo has, in recent years, become little more than a seasonal lake—and a very salty, polluted one as well (much of the time only its wetlands survive from one year to the next). Since the Lake Poopo exists in a very dry area and is only about 10 feet deep on average, and is also found at a very high altitude—more than 12,000 feet—it has a high evaporation rate. Unfortunately, only one river feeds into the lake, the Desaquadero River, which flows from Lake Titicaca, but this lake is also losing water, so the river is too. This water loss is caused by recent drought and climate change, which has led to the shrinkage of many glaciers throughout South America. Concerned about the demise of Lake Poopo, it has been designated for conservation by the Ramsar Convention. Tragically, this alarm bell may have been wrung much too late. But we can always hope, of course.

Lake Urmia in 1984

6. Lake Urmia

Lake Urmia is a hypersaline lake located in Iran. Formerly the largest saltwater lake in the Middle East, covering over 2,000 square miles, Lake Urmia has shrunk to only 10 per cent or its original size and now holds only five per cent of the water it once had. The reasons for this dramatic water loss are many: the 13 rivers entering the lake have been dammed; increased groundwater pumping has reduced flows into the lake; water diversions; climate change and drought. Unfortunately for the people of Iran, if Lake Urmia vanishes, so will the tourism it attracts, and the lake’s marshes will dry up too, no longer supporting 226 species of birds and many other animals. But Lake Urmia may survive at least somewhat; Iranian officials are working to persuade neighboring countries such as Armenia and Azerbaijan to divert water to help refill this dwindling water resource.

Long shot of Great Salt Lake

7. Great Salt Lake

Located in the state of Utah, Great Salt Lake, aka America’s Dead Sea, is the largest salt water lake in the Western Hemisphere, but these days it seems to be shrinking by the day. Far saltier than seawater, Great Salt Lake nevertheless supports life such as brine shrimp, brine flies and numerous species of birds. Great Salt Lake is a pluvial lake and the largest section of Lake Bonneville, a fresh water paleolake that existed in the Great Basin from 14,000 to 16,000 years ago.

Since the American Southwest has been drying out since the end of the Pleistocene, so have all the lakes in the Great Basin, including Great Salt Lake, which will probably survive for some time; but when drought and climate change are taken into account, it could dry up much sooner than most people would think and become the largest salt flat in the US!

In June 2022, according to reports in the New York Times, Great Salt Lake has shrunk by two-thirds since the 1980s and, as the lake dries up, massive amounts of arsenic could be exposed to the wind and blown into surrounding residential and commercial areas, constituting a serious health risk, rivaling disastrous hurricanes, floods and tornadoes in the East Coast and Gulf States!

Orbital view of Lake Tanganyika

8. Lake Tanganyika

One of the African Great Lakes, Lake Tanganyika is located in Tanzania and considered the second largest lake by volume in the world; it’s also considered an ancient lake—one that has carried water for more than a million years. The lake supports numerous plants and animals and people, and particularly attractive are its tropical fish. However, the productivity of the lake has declined since the 1800s. Anyway, unlike an endorheic lake, Lake Tanganyika has a large inflow and outflow of water. However, in the past, the lake had no outflow, because of changing geological conditions, thus making it partly endorheic. At present, Lake Tanganyika has an outflow through the Lunkuga and Congo Rivers; but this could change if water is diverted from the inflow of the lake, thus lowering its level so the rivers can’t drain it. Then the eventual demise of Lake Tanganyika could happen within decades or even years.

Close up of Lake Assal

 9. Lake Assal

Located in Djibouti, in the so-called Horn of Africa, Lake Djibouti, covering about 20 square miles, rests at the bottom of a volcanic crater, some 500 feet below sea level; only the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee are deeper; and only the Don Juan Pond in Antarctica has a higher salt content in its water—ten times that of seawater, in fact. A virtual hellhole, since it’s always very hot near the lake, over 120 degrees F in the summer and just about as hot during the winter, Lake Djibouti has no outflow except from evaporation. Interestingly, since ancient times people have mined the salt flats near the lake, and there’s millions of tons left to be extracted. So, if Lake Assal eventually dries up, few people may lament its passing, since the salt can be hauled away for many years, providing people with a continuous way of making money.

Lake Puzhal

10. Lake Puzhal

Lake Puzhal, a rain-fed reservoir near Chennai, India’s sixth largest city, is losing water at an unprecedented rate and may soon run completely dry. The monsoon rains that feed the lake have been unreliable since 2017. To compensate for the low level of water in the lake, the area’s 10 million residents have to rely on homemade wells, which often produce water that is not potable. Water has been trucked into the region to relieve some of its thirsty populace. To make matters worse, India has been experiencing rising temperatures since 2004, producing heat waves that have killed hundreds of folks. Shockingly, four other lakes near Chennai are also running dry, and more than 20 cities in India may run out of ground water by 2020.