EghtesadOnline: The pattern of deficits in underground water resources in Fars Province is approaching appalling levels and is closer to the one billion cubic meters, says the managing director of the provincial water company.
"Consistent efforts are being made to identify illegal water wells, but apparently there are too many and cash penalties (for those who dig wells without permits) are simply no more effective," Hamidreza Dehqani was quoted as saying by ISNA.
The rising deficits directly stem from illegal wells.
"Existing regulations are ineffective and have failed to act as a deterrent. The rules need to be rewritten to send the right message to those who do refuse to respect the law," Financial Tribune quoted him as saying.
Drawing an analogy between the number of wells in the southwest province and other regions, he said there are 75,000 authorized wells in Fars. The number of unauthorized wells are estimated at10,000 illegal at the least of which 500 have been sealed since March.
"Due to the slow and cumbersome legal process to bring law-breakers to justice, sealing all unauthorized wells may take 15 years!"
Dehqani said new regulations need to be ratified or else the consequences would be profound.
Referring to Marvdasht County, he noted that there are 175 villages in the region with a population of 140,000. About 20% do not have access to safe water while water to 35 villages is supplied via tankers. Farmers in the region lack water over the last five years.
The severity of the depletion of groundwater sources has forced residents of the province to dig more than 300 meters just to find water. A few years ago water could be found at 70 meters.
Unauthorized wells are also dug in other countries including Spain, Brazil, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Jordan and India.
Declining water resources has compelled successive governments to raise the number of plains from which water withdrawal is banned from 15 in 1968 to 405 now -- up 2,600%.
The figure is serious cause for concern because the banned plains accounted for 95% of underground water resources that depleted faster than presumed.
According to Mohammad Ali Mostafavi, director of Water Resources Preservation Office at the Waster Resources Management Company, under current conditions, issuing new licenses for wells means ignoring the water rights of future generations.
Almost 320,000 illegal wells have been identified and are being sealed gradually and 487,000 wells have licenses.
In related news, Hamedan Water Company managing director, Mansour Sotoudeh, said there are 13 plains in the province, all of which are banned. In other words, the agriculture sector in the province will encounter irresolvable challenges.
Authorities in the province have not issued licenses for new wells since 1992. Of the total 15,000 wells, 11,000 are for farming.
"Deficits in underground water resources in the province now exceeded 200 mcm," Sotoudeh warned.
Annually close to 49 billion cubic meters of water is extracted from authorized wells and 7.3 bcm from illegal wells across the country that is located in one of the world’s most water-stressed regions.
Illegal water wells have emerged as a dilemma for government authorities trying albeit with little success, to curb the high extraction and consumption rates, namely in the main agricultural regions.
According to Kerman governor, Mostafa Ayatollahi Mousav, the region’s groundwater balance is negative; meaning that the rate of water withdrawal is over and above replenishment.
Each year, 2.8 bcm of water is withdrawn from the drought-stricken province’s aquifers. Kerman has 24,000 wells, of which 8,500 are illegal.
According to Mohammad Ala'ee, head of Khorasan Razavi Province Water Company, decline in the level of groundwater is a growing phenomenon and is expected to cause irreversible damage to the environment (land subsidence) if not addressed.
"The land in Mashhad and Neyshabur plain (both in Khorasan Razavi Province) has subsided by 25 centimeters and 28 centimeters respectively, which is beyond critical levels," he said.