Lake Velence is a small, freshwater lake located in central Hungary. It’s home to over 100 species of birds and dozens of fish, as well as throngs upon tourists who visit it to cool off from the heat.

Many of the lake’s visitors, both human and animal, have vanished as the extreme heat has caused the water levels to drop dangerously. Environmental activists and experts fear that this could lead to an ecological and economic crisis for the third largest natural lake in the country.

According to them, climate change and inadequate infrastructure are colliding with disastrous results. The lake has lost nearly half of its water in the past two years as hot, dry summers have led to accelerating evaporation and deteriorating water quality.

Tibor Horanyi, an environmental management engineer and activist said that “We are talking years of drought and rainfall deficit and a continual water shortage.” “For many years, we have seen the impact global warming has on our lives. It’s clear that it’s connected to this low water level.

According to the local water authority, the optimal water level for Lake Velence in August (pronounced “VEH-len”tseh), is 150 cm (5 feet).

On Thursday, however, the water level was at 80 cm (2ft 7 inches), which Horanyi called “critical”.

According to official measurements, hot and dry weather can lead to Lake Velence losing as much as a centimeter per year. Those decreased levels have meant water temperatures are rising faster, causing diminished oxygen content, increased proliferation of algae and reduced water quality.

After a long and cold spring, Hungary saw its third hottest June in 1901, followed by the hottest July ever recorded, according to the national weather service.

Horanyi stated that the extreme heat caused the lake’s water temperature to rise by 10 degrees Celsius (18 F), within one week. This resulted in the deaths of over four tonnes (8.800 pounds) of fish. Volunteers then removed them.

Otto Balogh was a local fisherman who told The Associated Press the water conditions were clear and had impacted his catch.

“There are no fish. Balogh stated that this was the first time he caught fish in the three previous weekends he’s been here.

The lake’s western shore has been completely flooded, and many birds that are normally found in the bird sanctuary have vanished.

“There are no water birds right now. Balogh stated that they have moved on to other places to get food.

The closure of four beaches at Lake Velence was ordered by the local public health agency in July. They were citing poor water quality.

While most of the beaches have since reopened, few bathers venture in the water, which due to the low levels scarcely reaches their waists even if they wade more than 100 meters (yards) out.

Peter Vas, a local activist and resident, stated that the low water levels, dying fish, and closed beaches have caused a drastic decrease in tourism to local bars, restaurants, and hotels. This could cause further hardships for an already difficult-hit local economy.

Vas stated that traders, restaurateurs, and holidaymakers have invested a lot of money to make the lake a great place to relax. “This lake must be saved.”

Hungarian activists have asked the government to act to save the lake and provide the resources to restore the water to its original levels.

However, the crisis has remained unresolved due to continued hot weather and infrastructural problems.

In the 1970s, two reservoirs were constructed to supply water to the lake in case of low levels. A spokesperson for the national water authority stated that extreme heat and drought had also caused low water levels in these reservoirs, which led to high alga content making the water unsuitable to remedy the lake’s water shortage.

Zoltan Tessely was the government commissioner responsible to the development of Lake Velence. He said that he had submitted to the government a proposal for replenishing the lake’s water — but that the $133 million price tag had been rejected by the government because it needed the money to support economic recovery following the pandemic.

Vas, the activist from the area, acknowledged that the lake had dried before and noted that the lake bed was where Hungarian hussars used to train their horses in 1863.

He said, “But now it is the 21st Century.” “We must be able to save this natural protected zone.”

He said that with no immediate solution and only warm, dry weather forecast, political will is the only way to prevent an environmental catastrophe at Lake Velence.