Five years needed to restore 50% of drought-ridden Iran's Urmia Lake

Society Materials 17 December 2014 14:31 (UTC +04:00)

Baku, Azerbaijan, Dec.17

By Dalga Khatinoglu - Trend:

Iranian top official says only five years are needed to revive vast-drought plagued Urmia Lake. The deputy head of Department of Environment (DOE) within the President's Office, Esmail Kahrom told Trend Dec. 17 that during the current year the water level in Lake Urmia has risen by about 30 centimeters.

He also said Iran's government has allocated $522 million for work needed on the restoration of the Lake Urmia.

Lake Urmia, in the northwestern corner of Iran, is one of the largest permanent hypersaline lakes in the world and the largest lake in the Middle East.

According to the United Nations Environment Program, scientists have warned that continued decline would lead to increased salinity, collapse of the lake's food chain and ecosystem, loss of wetland habitat, wind blown "salt-storms," alteration of local climate and serious negative impacts on local agriculture and livelihoods as well as regional health.

The area of Lake Urmia was about 6,100 square kilometers until 1995, but the illegal use of water flowing into the lake for watering by the rural population, construction of dams and illegal objects on its banks, caused the lake to dry up by 90 percent. However, unexpected long-days rains during last months raised hopes for restoration of the lake.

Iran is in an arid zone, some 65% of its territory has an arid or hyper arid climate, and approximately 85% of the country an arid, semi-arid or hyper arid environment.

The specific features and location of Iran causes it to receive less than a third of the world average precipitation.

Kahrom said Iran receives only 250 millimeters of precipitation, while the average global level is 850 millimeters in annum.

The Iranian official added that the irrigation system around Urmia Lake should be developed and modernized. The cost of converting traditional flood irrigation methods to sprinkle and trickle irrigation systems are huge, but if the plan was successful, the government projected that some 40 percent of irrigation water resources could be delivered to the lake.

"The watershed around Lake Urmia holds 7 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water annually, the shares of rivers, spring and precipitation are 5.5 bcm, 0.5 bcm and one bcm respectively. We can reduce the irrigation needs and deliver some 2.8 bcm of watershed resources to Lake Urmia annually. With this amount, the lake would be revived by 50 percent in the next five years," he said.

Kahrom said Iran receives 420 bcm of precipitation annually, but water management in Iran has been neglected, "We only use about 90 bcm of this volume. On the other hand, Iran's agriculture sector shares 93 percent of water consumption, while the irrigation system hasn't been modernized and farmers use flood irrigation methods".

The amount of wasted water in Iran is about 330 bcm, including the 30 bcm evaporation volume in lakes and dams per year.

The Iranian government allocated a credit line of about $450 million (based on official US dollar at 26,500 rials) for modernizing the irrigation system in the current fiscal year, which will end on March 20.

Dalga Khatinoglu is an expert on Iran's energy sector, head of Trend Agency's Iran news service
Follow him on @dalgakhatinoglu

Edited by CN