Caspian Sea Water Transfer Plan Carries Enormous Ecological Risk
EghtesadOnline: Transferring water from the Caspian Sea in the north to the drought-hit central plateau will have severe negative environmental effects, a former member of the World Water Council said.
The plan to transfer water through a 200-kilometer pipeline from Mazandaran Province to Semnan Province has been promoted as a solution to help meet growing demand in the agricultural, industrial and household sectors of the water-stressed region.
“Pumping water from Caspian Sea would eventually lead to an increase in the sea’s salinity and endanger the habitats it supports,” Abbasqoli Jahani was quoted as saying by ILNA.
The proposed plan involves siphoning 100 million cubic meters of water out of the sea per year to Semnan after desalination, Financial Tribune reported.
Desalination extracts mineral components from saline water, but it also produces huge quantities of brine, which is usually dumped back into the sea and eventually eradicates all marine life.
Experts note that brine is denser than seawater and therefore sinks to the bottom of a water body, directly harming the ecosystem.
Furthermore, the destruction of the sea’s biodiversity will also take a toll on local communities that largely depend on fishing to make a living.
Another contentious issue is the path through which the pipeline would reach Semnan. “The pipeline would run through the Hyrcanian forests, necessitating the felling of trees in the ecologically-rich but vulnerable woodlands,” Jahani warned.
The forests in northern Iran covered 3.6 million hectares 50 years ago. Today that number 1.6 million hectares.
Implementing the controversial project will result in large-scale deforestation in Hyrcanian Forest that borders the southern shores of the Caspian Sea.
Moreover, water will have to be pumped upward from 21 meters below sea level to the height of 2,000 meters.
According to projections, pumping equipment would require at least 350 megawatts of power per annum, which is very costly, Jahani said.
The unclear legal status of the Caspian Sea is another complex issue for the water transfer project. The waterway is bordered by Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and their governments have yet to agree on a fair and final deal related to water sharing.
Decades of negotiations have not produced results acceptable to the five littoral states.
Environmentalists and experts warn about other impending disasters if the other four countries decide to do the same.
There has also been controversy over the volume of water to be transferred. Those in favor of the project say that since 90% of Caspian Sea water comes from rivers that originate in Russia and flow through the Iranian side of the Sea, 100 mcm of water would not have a great negative impact on the sea that holds an estimated 80,000 billion cubic meters of water.
However, MPs from Mazandaran say a better solution to Iran’s water plight would be to supply water from the Sea of Oman and the Persian Gulf in the south, both of which are connected to the open seas and oceans.
They also note that licenses for such water transfer have already been granted.
Pros & Cons
According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, inter-basin transfer has both positive and negative impacts.
Inter-basin transfer is a term used to describe man-made conveyance schemes which move water from one river basin where it is available, to another basin where water is less available or could be utilized better for human development.
Its benefits include adding new basins for water-deficient areas, facilitating water cycle, improving meteorological conditions in the recipient basins, mitigating ecological water shortage, repairing the damaged ecological system, and preserving the endangered wild fauna and flora.
However, the negative impacts include salinization and aridification of the donor basins, damage to the ecological environment of the donor basins and both sides of the conveying channel system, and increase of water consumption in the recipient basins among others.
All said, critics say there are more feasible, better and lasting solutions to Semnan’s water problems.
Rain water harvesting, judicious water use (especially in the agro sector), promoting modern irrigation techniques, recycling wastewater, separating potable water from wastewater and implementation of watershed plans are among measures suggested by experts to help conserve and save water in the region.