Preventing water crises
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Preventing water crises

Lake Balaton, then and now

The first records of the “Hungarian sea” date back to Roman ages, although Balaton most probably played a role as far back as prehistoric times. These records mostly deal with ancient farming and fishing, pointing to an undisputed significance already then.

Balaton is the biggest lake of Hungary with its length of 77 km, a maximum width of 14 km and 594 km2 of water surface. It is located in the western part of the country in Transdanubia, between Balaton Uplands with excellent wineries and fruit production on the North and Zala Hills and Somogy Hills on the South.

Only natural conditions affected Balaton’s water supply and water levels during the first stage of its existence lasting approximately seven thousand years. The second stage is characterised by the impact of human intervention with its effects lasting to this day.

The first human intervention with the aim to decrease the too high water level of Lake Balaton occurred most likely during the Roman era when in the 3rd century AC Emperor Galerius built a flood gate at Siófok. However, subsequent, 20th century archaeological research questioned the existence of this flood gate.

From the Middle Ages, the mills on the stream Sió raised the water level of Lake Balaton. During the Turkish times by raising the water level ever higher, the bays of Lake Balaton were flooded and swamps spread. The newly reorganised business life of the 18th century made the lowering of the water level, then some 5-6 meters higher than today, and the regulation of Sió and Balaton a necessity. Economic development and the emergence of resorts on the shores of the lake necessitated a more significant reduction of the fluctuation of water level. The decisive step in the process of the stabilisation of the water level was the building of the flood gate at Siófok in 1863.

Balaton is the biggest lake of Hungary with its length of 77 km, a maximum width of 14 km and 594 km2 of water surface Photo: Shutterstock

The regulation of inflows from waterways, the formation of the shores, the upgrading of the surrounding lands (i.e. all activities which improve the quality of agricultural lands and of the soil with the objective of increasing the yields) and agricultural usage could have only been started after controlling the water level of Lake Balaton. As a consequence, the water quality protective function of the surrounding marshes had ceased just at a time when the developing civilisation had been continuously worsening the quality of the waters flowing into the lake.

Water usage came with development. The effect of human activities and of pollution unfortunately inherent with it, can be seen in our waters. The worsening of the quality of water first occurred in shallow freshwater lakes like Balaton but the pollution of rivers, seas and underground water supplies are also well known.

By 1970 the pollution of the lake had reached such a level that it required a serious intervention since the environmental condition and the water quality had been deteriorating fast. The first Water Management Development Program of Balaton was completed in 1971 which gave priority to the improvement of water quality as opposed to developmental tasks.

The several decades of efforts have proven worthwhile.

The lake’s water quality has been improving continuously since the 2000s, and by today it has earned a place among the cleanest lakes in Europe.

The lake’s flora and fauna have shown their gratitude for the excellent water quality. This not only improves the quality of life of local residents, it is also reflected in the growing attraction of the lake for tourists. Along with the traditional holiday and bathing culture, the plentiful natural resources of the region also offer numerous pleasures to the devotees of angling and cycling tourism.

The excellent water quality of Lake Balaton is an example of European significance of how we can successfully protect valuable natural areas Photo: Shutterstock

A fairy-tale fishpond in Sződliget

30 km from Budapest, Hungary, near the town of Vác and the village of Sződliget, there is a hidden treasure: a romantic little fishpond that is a veritable entrance to the world of fairy tales. The lake’s shore is composed of a series of tiny coves, with idyllic little lodges of reeds and wood hidden under the gigantic floodplain trees.

Incomparable collection of photos of Lake Balaton never seen before

The Hungarian Museum of Science, Technology and Transport has digitized and published a unique collection of Balaton photos on its website. The material primarily documents the lakeside works and the construction of harbours that took place between the two world wars, and the social conditions of the labourers who worked by the lake.

A Balaton landscape shrouded in a blanket of autumn fog

Lake Balaton and its environs are rewarding photographic themes in every season: along with the lake itself, the surrounding landscapes are also astonishingly beautiful. The natural areas and the hidden wildlife around the lake are favoured themes for many photographers – and the autumn sunrise lends a spectacular splendour to the Balaton Uplands and Mount Badacsony, captured this time by Josef Jordan.

The Old Lake at Tata – a haven for migratory birds

The Old Lake at Tata is Hungary’s oldest artificial lake, created before the Hungarian conquest by building a dam across the Átal-ér Stream. There is a comfortable footpath around the lake, but it is a popular destination not only with hikers but also with migratory birds. Tens of thousands of wild geese and ducks spend the autumn and the winter on the lake.

Lake Fertő: a world heritage site in Hungary and Austria

Lake Fertő is an increasingly popular destination for nature-lovers: it has a cycle path all around it, many exciting beauty spots, atmospheric small towns and inviting, beautiful landscapes. Although it lies partly in Hungary and partly in Austria, the open border means that the Fertő Region still forms a single unit.

The Sárvár Spa: recreation for the whole family

The Sárvár Medicinal and Wellness Spa, completed in 2002, is the largest bath complex in Western Transdanubia. The spa offers thermal pools, giant slides, kiddie pools, a climbing wall and wellness services to entertain visitors looking for relaxation and recreation.

Hagymatikum, the bath of baths

The small town of Makó in Hungary, famous for its excellent onions, has a veritable thermal bath complex in the town centre. On a plot of 12 thousand square metres, the complex offers 18 different pools, 8 kinds of saunas, a steam cabin as well as leisure, therapeutic and wellness services, offering visitors an unforgettable recreational experience.

The Miskolctapolca Bath: bathing deep in a cave

Along the with its pools of thermal water for those seeking its therapeutic effects, the unique Miskolctapolca Cave Bath also offers visitors an opportunity to bathe in naturally formed cave passages and chambers.

Underground boating

The most famous sight of the town of Tapolca is hidden underground and may be explored in an extraordinary fashion. The Tapolca cave lake, unique in Hungary, is not famous for its spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, but the underground boating that it offers.

Lake Bokodi, a floating village by the foothills of the Vértes Mountain

There is a special lake near Oroszlány, Hungary, by the foothills of the Vértes Mountain: meandering wooden piers and boardwalks lead to the small, red, blue and yellow cabins floating on the water. The Bokodi Lake is the artificial lake of the Vértes Power Station, but it offers a living
fairy-tale world for visitors.