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EghtesadOnline: Large volumes of underground water that were supposed to be consumed over the next century have already been used in the last five decades, an environmentalist and head of the Environment Committee for Social Health Department of UNESCO said.

“Under such critical conditions pinning hope on wet years is nothing but wishful thinking,” Mohammad Darvish was quoted as saying by IRNA.

Water levels in underground tables have dwindled by at least 100 millimeters in 50 years, he said.

To compensate the steep decline average annual rainfall should be at least 400 millimeters. In the last two (wet) years precipitation was less than 300 millimeters.

With the copious precipitation since 2018, people are keen to know whether or not the pressing water problems can be resolved. The answer is obvious.

“Instead, the people should be asking are we managing our water resources in a sustainable manner and for the long haul.”  The answer is a big “NO”, Darvish said as a matter of fact. 

It seems the worsening water shortages have still not sent the direct and urgent message to high and wasteful consumers that the current trend cannot be sustained. 

Iranians and water managers need to face the stark reality soon that something is very wrong and must be fixed before the wells run dry. In fact the world is fast getting closer to an extended water crisis. Experts and conservationists in Tehran have regularly warned that Iran is already in the highly critical bracket because of waste and unacceptably high consumption. 

Social unrest related to climate change and shortages of water/electricity are reported with higher frequency in many parts of the globe. Iran is not spared. 

Iran is located in an arid and semi-arid region. With less than 230 millimeters of rainfall per year, it is among countries with low precipitation. The average global rainfall is about 1,000 mm per annum.

The prolonged dry spell—exacerbated by climate change—has taken a toll on Iran’s groundwater levels to the extent that even if precipitation returns to normal, it may possibly meet actual water demand and not help restore underground reserves.

“In other words, normal rainfall cannot and will not replenish the depleting groundwater reserves,” Darvish warned.

“True, watershed management technology and techniques such as flood dispersal, efficient aquifer management and revival of natural resources can help improve groundwater resources. But these cannot work miracles.”


Annual Consumption

The senior environmental official said annual water consumption in Iran (100 billion cubic meters) should “reduce by at least 96% and reach 40 bcm.”

Official data suggest over 95% of Iran’s water resources are used by farmers and industries where opportunities for waste and water loss are in abundance. 

"It is imperative to seriously pursue measures in these sectors to curb inefficient water use and do away with past [failed] reforms.”

Tapping into unconventional water resources (reclaimed wastewater) in industries and expansion of hydroponic greenhouses should be put high on the agenda before it is too late, Darvish noted. 

Hydroponics is a subset of hydroculture, the method of growing plants without soil, using mineral nutrients in a water solvent. Iran has more than 12,000 hectares under greenhouse cultivation.

The environmental expert reiterated that the frequency of fires in forests managed by the Forests, Range and Watershed Management Organization must end because “the more woodlands disappear the less water will penetrate into underground aquifers”.

Echoing global warnings, Darvish said, “The destruction of forests will have serious ramifications on our climate and economy.” 

Iran’s arid climate coupled with human error and shocking indifference has left the woodlands susceptible to wildfires.

Measures such as stationing helicopters in vulnerable regions such as Ilam, Kohgilouyeh-Boyerahmad and Khuzestan, forming rapid response teams, equipping park rangers with modern fire extinguishers and installing monitoring systems can help reduce the damage caused by forest fires.


Substantial Loss

He went on to say that a substantial volume (30%) of drinking water is lost in Tehran every year due to seepage and rusting pipelines. The annual loss is almost 205 million cubic meters. 

Almost half the water infrastructure in the sprawling and ever-expanding capital is old and should be replaced to reduce the monumental water loss and control the worsening water deficits.

The crucial task of reducing water wastage will not be accomplished unless at least 7,000 kilometers of pipelines are replaced, Darvish was quoted as saying.

"Proper management of the dwindling water resources is more challenging in rural areas largely due to the decentralized networks and lack of meters" in some remote regions.

According to the Geological Survey & Mineral Exploration Organization of Iran, 37 million Iranians live in water-stressed regions.

Water Crisis underground water environmentalist