Iran's Inter-Basin Water Transfer Schemes Challenged
EghtesadOnline: Diverting water from the Oman Sea to alleviate the water crisis in Sistan-Baluchestan, South Khorasan and Khorasan Razavi provinces is on the agenda, but it should not be the last resort, deputy for water and wastewater affairs at the Energy Ministry said.
"Such projects are costly, long-term and bound to lead to environmental disasters like exacerbating soil erosion and throwing marine ecosystems out of balance," Qassem Taqizadeh Khamesi was quoted as saying by IRNA on Saturday.
Instead spreading public awareness, promoting prudent consumption, treating and recycling wastewater, collecting and reusing groundwater, updating traditional irrigation and farming practices should be given higher priority, he said.
Inter-basin transfer to far-flung regions can and will compromise the above-mentioned approaches tried and tested globally to fight water shortage. Moreover, Iran is the only country in the world trying to tackle water paucity by building a pipeline stretching over a long distance, Financial Tribune reported. “This indeed is unprecedented and has never been seen in the world before.”
He stressed that in addition to hurting the eco-system, transferring water (via a 1,600km pipeline) would nurture false hope among farmers and undermine their effort to rethink their unacceptable and wasteful irrigation practices.
According to Khamesi, the agriculture sector in the three provinces consumes 11 billion cubic meters of the precious water resources every year.
"If they reduce consumption by 3% a year, there would be no need to spend $4 billion to transfer sea water to those regions."
What really amazes experts and academicians like Parviz Kardavani, a veteran eremologist and respected faculty member of Tehran University, is why governments are willing to invest colossal amounts on sea water transfers but do nothing concrete to educate the people and increase easy access to modern water conservation technologies.
According to the university teacher, there is a strong consensus among experts that water-deficit countries like Iran need to rely more on non-conventional resources to partly alleviate the worsening water problem.
Questioning the ineffective and old methods of farming in desert regions, namely the drilling of wells, he said, "What indeed was supposed to help agriculture thrive has itself become a menace and is pulling down water levels to naught."
Kardavani is of the opinion that diverting water from the sea, whether from the Persian Gulf in the south or the Caspian Sea to the north, to the arid and drought-hit regions, is not a viable alternative because of two reasons:
Firstly, the massive costs notwithstanding, implementing such plans are long-term (minimum ten years) and this is while people are now in dire need of water.
Second and more importantly, if and when the projects are complete, it would mean availability of water that probably would result in building and expanding steel factories.
Independent economic experts and prominent academicians have long questioned the wisdom of building costly steel factories in regions that had water problems that over time made a bad situation worse.
Iran’s water sector is long plagued with poor management. Frequent droughts and over-abstraction of surface waters and underground water tables have created a major dilemma calling for urgent and efficient short and medium-term solutions.
Signs of the bad situation are the drying of lakes, rivers and wetlands, declining groundwater levels, subsidence, degradation of water quality, soil erosion, desertification and dust storms.
Renewable water reserves show an appalling 20% decline over five years, down from 130 billion cubic meters in 2013 to 105 bcm now, of which 93% or 83 bcm is used by farmers.
Renewable water resources are defined as the average manual flow of rivers and recharge of aquifers generated from precipitation.
According to the International Water Management Institute, a non-profit, scientific research organization focusing on sustainable use of water and land resources in developing countries, water (renewable) resources were around 140 bcm in 1999 and fell rapidly ever since -- to 135 bcm, 130 bcm and 105 bcm in 2007, 2013 and 2017 respectively.
Iran's annual water consumption is more than100 billion cubic meters, meaning that the water deficit will continue to be a serious national concern unless growing certain water-intensive fruits is banned and a permanent end is put to the illegal water wells.