EghtesadOnline: Fifteen wet months helped eased the water tension to some extent, but the respite will not last long, director of the National Water and Wastewater Engineering Company of Iran (Abfa) said.
“Iran has entered a period of wet spells after dry years over the past few decades. However, such wet years are short-lived and water scarcity will hit crisis level sooner rather than later,” Qassem Taqizadeh Khamesi was quoted as saying by ILNA.
Although 547 small towns and big cities suffered from severe water tension between 2010 and 2018, the number has dwindled to 170 of which 50 are still in critical situations, he said.
“Almost 45% of the population in rural areas have no or limited access to piped water and their needs are met by transferring water from other regions.”
Despite reports in the media last week that diversion of water from the Caspian Sea to drought-stricken Semnan Province in north central Iran has started, the Department of Environment has not issued any license yet, he added.
According to the official, supplying water to rural areas (from the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf) has become a compulsion for the Energy Ministry. However, so long as the DoE does not issue the necessary permits, pipe laying operations cannot start.
Statistics show that Iran’s weather patterns are changing toward a period of heavier downpours in spring. But oddly enough, catchment areas that had the lowest rainfall in dry years (the Central Plateau in Markazi Province and Hamoun Wetlands in the east) are receiving more rain than other areas. These areas are the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman basin in the south, Caspian Sea in the north, Karakum basin in the northeast and Urmia Lake in the northwest.
Khamesi said there are not enough dams in the country and that is why close to 40 billion cubic meters of water has been released into rivers and wetlands since March 2019 in Golestan, Lorestan and Khuozestan provinces.
“If dam construction in the provinces (Narmab in Golestan, Mashoureh in Lorestan and Bakhtiari in Khouzestan) is over, 40 mcm of water can be saved.”
The Abfa chief reiterated that water-related challenges are complex and “cannot be tackled by the Energy Ministry alone.”
All ministries (including agriculture and education) and state- organizations should be required to do their fair share to address the problems, he said.
Criticizing some macro policies, he said rice farming (a water intensive crop) in provinces that do not have enough water to quench their thirst (Sistan-Baluchestan, Isfahan, Zanjan, Qazvin and North Khorasan) is a recipe for disaster and “those who issue such permits should be held responsible for the short and long term consequences.”
Official data suggest over 90% of Iran’s water resources are used by the agriculture sector where unsustainable and wasteful farming practices are a norm.
"It is imperative to adopt and seriously pursue measures in the farming sector to curb inefficient water use and push through previously introduced reforms.”
Those measures could include restrictions on rice cultivation, modernizing irrigation systems and train farmers to produce high-yield crops with less water as is the practice in many countries both with and without water deficits. Prominent climatologist have often made the case for raising water tariffs and penalize heavy consumers.
"Modern irrigation methods have been implemented to two million hectares of farmland so far, Irrigation efficiency has grown substantially from 39% to 44% in recent years," he said. He did not say what the new systems are.
That rate, however, pales in comparison to the global average of 75%. Modern irrigation systems can help reduce water loss by allowing farmers to control the flow of water.
Khamesi added that limits on conventional water resources for future needs call for a paradigm shift to unconventional resources including treated wastewater.
Today, wastewater is seen as a valuable resource not only for farming but also to help industries stop depleting underground tables. Nevertheless, a large number of farmers (especially in the central plateau) are reluctant to tap into recycled wastewater and replace it with underground water or surface water resources.
“Either they are unaware of the water challenges or prefer to use (depleting) groundwater resources that seems economically feasible.”