Lake Balkhash is one of the largest lakes in Asia and 13th largest continental lake in the world. It is located in southeastern Kazakhstan, in Central Asia, and belongs to an endorheic (closed) basin shared by Kazakhstan and China, with a small part in Kyrgyzstan. The basin drains into the lake via seven rivers. The major one is the Ili River, which brings the majority of the riparian inflow; others, such as the Karatal, provide both surface and subsurface flow. The Ili is fed from precipitation (largely vernal snowmelt) from the mountains of China's Xinjiang region.
The lake currently covers 16,400 km2 (6,300 sq mi), but, like the Aral Sea, it is shrinking because of the diversion of water from the rivers that feed it. The lake is divided by a strait into two distinct parts. The western part is fresh water, while the eastern half is saline. The eastern part is on average 1.7 times deeper than the western part. The largest city in the lake area is also named Balkhash and has about 66,000 inhabitants. Major industrial activities in the area are mining, ore processing and fishing.
While the size of the lake is temporarily growing, there is concern about the lake's shallowing due to desertification and industrial activity. The present name of the lake originates from the word "balkas" of Tatar, Kazakh and Southern Altai languages which means "tussocks in a swamp".