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EghtesadOnline: The plan to transfer water from the Caspian Sea to the drought-hit Semnan Province will not see the light of day in the near future, not due to ecological concerns but because it is economically unviable, head of the Department of Environment said.

“The environmental damage which may be caused by the plan has been overrated,” Isa Kalantari told the government-owned Persian-language newspaper ‘Iran’.

If and when undertaken, the water transfer pipelines will be laid alongside a natural gas pipeline that transfers gas from Asalouyeh in Bushehr Province to the northern regions, so there are no worries about deforestation, Financial Tribune quoted him as saying.

Not denying the fact that some trees will be felled, he argued that the environmental damage that could be inflicted by the project has been exaggerated and people have been misinformed.

Hyrcanian forests covered 3.5 million hectares in 1974. Now the area has shrunk to 1.6 million hectares.

Forests cover five provinces, stretching east to west along the southern border of the Caspian Sea, covering North Khorasan, Golestan, Mazandaran, Gilan and Ardabil provinces. The history of these broad-leaved forests dates back 25 to 50 million years, when they covered most of this northern temperate region.  

According to Kalantari, diverting water from the Caspian Sea to the Semnan desert will entail cutting 40 hectares of trees, but the Energy Ministry will be obliged to start afforestation projects that will cover 400 hectares. The DoE chief implied that the Energy Ministry may not be in a position to uphold its environmental pledges.

Rejecting claims that the initiative has not been studied in depth, he said the DoE thoroughly researched the plan between 1997 and 2005. It was in 2010 that the Energy Ministry was authorized to carry out the project, but nothing has happened and will never happen because it is not financially feasible.

Diverting water from the Caspian Sea to the drought-stricken regions projected to last at least 15 years, will raise the price of water to 90 cents/liter. At this prohibitive cost, it would be economically unviable even for developed economies

"It has been reported that this project would cost at least $200 million," he said, adding that if and when completed it would have low returns (less than 1%) and so no private company would take the risk. 

Needless to say, such astronomical cost cannot and will not be covered by the state given its mounting debt and the poor state of the sanctioned-hit economy.

The plan includes transferring 200 million cubic meters of water per annum to Semnan after desalination.



Brine Factor

Referring to other ecological concerns, namely the large quantities of discharge, known as brine that will be pumped back into the lake, Kalantari noted that desalination of 200 mcm of sea water will create 6 million tons of salt per year and when it is divided by the entire water in the lake (78,000 billion cubic meters) it will amount to 0.003% per cubic meter and this is no cause for worry.

Moreover, close to 3 billion cubic meters of water is added to the sea annually via precipitation and rivers that flow into the Caspian some of which are Aras, Atrak, Gorgan, Neka and Chalous.

Asked about land subsidence where the pipelines are expected to be laid, he said the DoE never received any such reports when gas pipelines were to be laid. Furthermore, private companies that will invest millions in the plan should think about these issues. 

The official was of the opinion that not transferring water to parched areas like Semnan over the next decade will force at least a million people to move to the capital.

Kalantari conceded that the government has encountered serious problems to develop its agriculture sector and (water-intensive) industries that is why since 2017 no new licenses have been issued to build factories in the central plateau.

The official expressed satisfaction with ongoing water transfer projects in the southern regions (from the Sea of Oman to Kerman). However, independent observers believe that environmental concerns have never been and will never be a top priority in running a dry country like Iran.


Asalouyeh Debt Future Independent See