EghtesadOnline: One major issue in water management in Iran is the exploitation of groundwater resources, and an important measure taken in this regard is the unending struggle against illegal water wells.
The managing director of Iran Water Resources Management Company, Mohammad Hajrasouliha, reiterated the point at a seminar on ‘NGOs, Social Capital and Water and Energy Management’ in Tehran on Wednesday.
“There are almost 470,000 legal and 320,000 illegal wells in the country,” the Energy Ministry news portal Paven quoted him as saying.
“Every year 13,000 to 14,000 illegal wells are sealed,” Hajrasouliha noted. “However, in doing so, we come across a highly critical issue: the people’s livelihood.”
According to Financial Tribune, the large number of wells, regardless of their legal status, helps feed farmlands and sealing them obviously has a negative impact on the strategically important agriculture sector.
The official did not elaborate on what the government plans to do to help sustain the livelihood of farmers whose wells are under threat or have been sealed, but said “state and non-governmental organizations need to work together” in this regard.
Transforming traditional wells into smart wells has been on the agenda of the Energy Ministry and so far 10% of the wells have undergone the transformation.
‘Smart’ or ‘intelligent’ wells are advanced wells with sensors and valves installed downhole to allow easy and constant monitoring by the utilities.
Injudicious use of groundwater from legal and illegal wells has emerged as a major problem in Iran's struggle against the apparently unending water crisis.
Illegal water wells have emerged as a dilemma for the water authorities trying to curb the high extraction and consumption rates, namely in the main agricultural regions.
Deep Wells, Water Intensive Crops
In spite of regular warnings, excessive withdrawal of water from aquifers continues in the agro sector to produce crops that — more often than not — are economically open to question.
Large amounts of water are withdrawn from different types of wells, typically borewells, which are dug deeper as time passes.
According to reports, some wells are dug as deep as 300 meters while the average depth of a normal borewell is between 30 to 60 meters worldwide.
Iran’s agriculture sector guzzles over 65% of the water due largely to old, inefficient and unsustainable farming practices.
Experts say farmers must adopt modern irrigation methods and avoid growing water-intensive crops in regions suffering from a shortage of water.
Water productivity in the agro sector stands close to 44%, but this is far below the average global water use efficiency in the key sector -- 75%.
Based on the Sixth Five Year Economic Development Plan (2017-22), annual water productivity should increase by 7%.
In line with government policy for addressing the water crisis, the sealing of illegal wells and imposing limits on withdrawal from legal wells, were among important measures taken to help conserve groundwater resources in 2018.
Iran's self-sufficiency in the domestic agro-food sector has improved substantially in the past years.
The country is self-sufficient in producing wheat, barley, maize, oil seeds, sugar beet, potato and saffron among others.
Besides supplying the domestic needs, they account for a part of Iran’s non-oil exports.
“In the past six years, more than 6 million people in over 9,500 rural areas have been supplied with drinking water,” Hajrasouliha said.
By the end of the current fiscal (March 2020), another one million rural people will have access to potable water as projects are underway to expand the water distribution network,” he added.
So far 75% of rural have access to piped water and the figure is expected to reach 81% by 2021.