EghtesadOnline: Deep-sea explorations, curbing evaporation and transferring (desalination) water from the Oman Sea to Sistan-Baluchestan Province are three major strategies to solve the worsening water crisis in the southeast, a Zabol lawmaker said.
“In the past, Hirmand (also known as Helmand) River in Afghanistan, supplied water to the eastern regions. But after building dams over the river, the Kabul government stopped the water flow to Iran,” ICANA quoted Habibollah Dahmardeh as saying.
The outcome was that people in the southeastern regions have been grappling with water and food problems as their livelihood for centuries depended solely on farming and animal husbandry. With long and severe water shortages, unusually large numbers lost their jobs and started migrating to the bigger cities.
Iran and Afghanistan signed a treaty in 1973 that says Iran's share from Helmand is 22 cubic meters per second, Financial Tribune reported.
Reportedly, the treaty was to the detriment of Iran because not only did it recognize all dams and canals that the Afghans built on the shared basin, it also reduced Iran’s annual water right to as low as 800 million cubic meters (less than 10% of the river’s annual water flow). The result has been that in the past two decades the part of Helmand River inside Iran is dry for almost 10 months in a year.
“This should be considered as one of the causes of the drought in the southeast,” Dahmardeh said.
However, he noted that there are other ways to provide water for the people and for farming in the underprivileged region.
Following deep-sea explorations, a water reservoir has been found at a depth of 2,200 meters below the surface in a well drilled in Sistan-Baluchestan. It being an artesian well, water flows out without pumping, the MP added, but did not provide details on how and where the water is stored.
“Deepwater exploration has been undertaken for the first time in Iran, and according to some experts it also is the first of its kind in the Middle East. To ensure water safety, sampling and experiments are underway to confirm that the new source of water is not harmful for humans and for agriculture.”
Another solution to curb the worsening water crisis is to drastically reduce evaporation. “Annually, the amount of water that evaporates from Chah-Nimeh water reservoirs in the province amounts to half the Helmand water right”.
Chah-Nimeh reservoirs are three natural and big cavities in the south of Sistan Plain 50 kilometers from Zabol. Surplus water from Hirmand River flows into it via a canal. The reservoirs, with a capacity of 700 million cubic meters, are roughly one-seventh of Hamoun Wetland. However, 355 million cubic meters evaporate annually from these reservoirs.
“The evaporated water equals water consumption of 10 to 15 years in the province,” the official rued, adding that foreign companies have been helping to reduce the evaporation. He did not provide details.
The third option is to transfer water from the Sea of Oman to Sistan and Baluchestan.
Although many experts consider water transfer schemes environmentally hazardous and destructive, water transfer from the Oman Sea is the last resort. Latest projections reveal that the province will face a serious water crisis within the next three years if timely and effective solutions are not found.
Sistan-Baluchestan is the second largest province in Iran, bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Decades of drought and steep decline in precipitation have caused water levels in the province's seven dams to fall to 429 million cubic meters, almost 22% of the total capacity of 1,967 mcm.
The current volume of water shows a decline of 47% compared to last year when the dams had stored 815 mcm of water. The province's groundwater levels have also dropped by five meters over the past 16 years due to drought and possibly climate change.