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EghtesadOnline: Despite the rise in evaporation in Urmia Lake catchment area, the water level is stable and things are normal for now, head of Urmia Lake Restoration Project said Saturday.

“Close to 1.6 billion cubic meters of water is forecast to evaporate from Urmia Lake in the next three months and the current water level at 1,272 centimeters could fall by 40 centimeters,” Farhad Sarkhosh was quoted as saying by IRNA.

Putting daily evaporation at about 18 million cubic meters, he said the evaporation notwithstanding, the lake now holds 4.7 bcm of water or about 23% more than last year’s 3.8 bcm. The figure was 2.5 bcm in 2018.

To help restore the world famous but troubled lake, close to 270 million cubic meters of water was discharged into the lake from four dams in West Azarbaijan Province in March and May.

Of the total (270 mcm) which will be released in the lake in 60 days, 194 mcm, 30 mcm, 40 mcm and 6 mcm were transferred from Boukan, Shahrchay, Mahabad and Salmas dams, respectively.

The lake spreads over 3,240 square kilometers. Close to $1 billion has been spent on Urmia Lake Restoration Program in the last five years.

Located between the provinces of East and West Azarbaijan, the lake is a closed water body fed through 21 permanent and 39 seasonal rivers.

Measures taken to revive the lake (banning dam construction, improving farming methods and management of reservoirs) helped the flow of 4.6 billion cubic meters of water into the drying lake.

Once the second-largest saltwater lake in the Middle East, Lake Urmia attracted birds and bathers to bask in its turquoise waters in northwest Iran. Then beginning in the 1970s, nearly three decades of drought and high water demand shriveled the basin, shrinking it by a shocking 80%.

Referring to ongoing plans to further raise the lake’s water level, the ULRP head noted, “A 40-km tunnel is being constructed to pump 650 million cubic of water (per year) from Zaab River in West Azarbaijan Province to the lake. It will be completed in December”.

Moreover, plans are in place to transfer 350 mcm of water from Pasveh Dam (in West Azarbaijan Province) and wastewater plants in Urmia and Tabriz (East Azarbaijan Province), he said but did not elaborate.

‘All Hands Count’  

In related news, IRNA quoted Gary Lewis, the former representative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Iran, as saying that life has returned to Lake Urmia.

Lewis wrote on his Twitter account, “As I said when serving in Iran (2013-18), to every human-made problem, there exists a human-made solution. Work still remains to be done, but what has recently happened in Lake Urmia is an example to inspire us all. All hands count.”

The lake now has enough water to attract birds and aquatic species such as flamingos and Artemia, but it still has a long way to completely survive. The water body still needs 9.5 billion cubic meters of water to reach its ecological level of 1274.10.

According to Claudio Providas, UNDP resident representative in Iran, a combination of man-made efforts and higher rainfall in recent years are “slowly, but surely reviving what was once the second largest saltwater lake in the world”.

He said brine shrimp, which had disappeared from the lake’s ecosystem due to high salinity, are returning. The number of water birds has also increased from 4,000 during the worst period to 60,000 last year.

According to the statistics from the Meteorological Organization, since the beginning of the current water year (Sept 2019), West Azarbaijan province has received 339.9 millimeters of rain -- up 14.6% compared to the 50-year average. 

The above normal downpours help preserve the lake.


Urmia Water Level Lake