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EghtesadOnline: Construction of Nazlou Chay and Barandouz Chay dams in Urmia, West Azarbaijan Province, which was halted to stop the drying up of Lake Urmia, will restart soon reportedly after a direct order from Energy Minster Reza Ardakanian, a lawmaker from the region said.

“Completion of the projects is crucial for farming in the region,” ISNA quoted Salman Zaker as saying.

Started in 2004, both projects were suspended in 2014 by the Energy Ministry and the Department of Environment as a restorative measure to help save the dying Lake Urmia, he said. 

“Now that the lake has come back and water levels are stable, completion of Nazlou Chay and Barandouz Chay dams should be on the agenda.”

The MP said the dams have so far incurred enormous costs and only half the work has been completed. 

So far there has been no official confirmation that Ardakanian has called for completion of the dams, ISNA reported.

Expressing concern over the issue, Ali Haji-Moradi, policymaking director at Urmia Lake Restoration Program's Incorporation and Planning Office, told the news agency that the two officials (Zaker and Ardakanian) had met to discuss the pending dams, but no official letter has been sent to ULRP.

Haji-Moradi went on to say that experts have been tasked with comprehensive studies on the long-term impact of the (incomplete) dams on the lake and the minister will make the final decision based on the report to be presented by the experts.

Support by Ardakanian and other senior officials (namely the DoE chief Isa Kalantari) for the dams has infuriated many environmentalists and economic experts who are closely observing and warning that Tehran needs to rewrite its agriculture policy before the water runs out.

“Dam construction can be good or bad, depending on the region,” the two men have often been quoted as saying. 

This is not the first time that the DoE and the Energy Ministry have changed their minds regarding dam construction that is being increasingly and strongly opposed around the globe.

The DoE recently voted in favor of the construction of Shafaroud Dam in Gilan Province. This is while in 2014, the same organization had opposed the project on the grounds that it would wipe out almost 157 hectares of the Caspian Hyrcanian forests.

Hadi Kiadaliri, dean of Agriculture Faculty at the Science and Research Branch of Azad University, says the harmful effects of such dams will emerge after ten years.



Scientifically Untenable

Only time will tell whether Ardakanian and Kalantari’s approach toward major environmental issues are scientifically untenable, or their highhanded ways of doing things without consulting independent experts is the main reason behind their controversial decisions.

It is disturbing to see officials take turns in proudly announcing plans to complete 120 dams of which 43 must be ready by 2022. Small wonder that of the 172 dams in Iran 96 are fast running out of water.

Due to years of below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures, especially in the central and southern regions, nearly half the dams have water levels less than 45%. 

Each of the 120 incomplete dams need minimum $250 million to be up and running. Given that average annual precipitation (200 millimeters) plunged 50% over the last decade, academia, environmentalists and water experts insist that building dams when there is no water to store is waste of time and money.

Dams, though crucial sources of water and electricity, are not the optimal solution to alleviate Iran’s water crisis under the present dire conditions.

Experts say the most effective way of providing enough water to cities and small towns is improve water efficiency in the key farming sector that gobbles up an unbelievable 90% of Iran’s water.

Reducing seepage and waste in the massive urban water supply networks should be a top priority, they say. 



Rent Seeking 

The piling up problems of dams, namely ecological disruptions, seepage and evaporation notwithstanding, in Iran's rent seeking economy dam construction is still profitable because such projects are not necessarily undertaken by one or two contractors. The norm has been that more than 10 contractors are involved and as they keep changing work gets delayed and costs rise.

According to Masoud Tajrishi, the Urmia Lake Restoration Project administrator of ULRP’s Planning Office, the surface area of Iran’s largest inland body of water (Lake Urmia) has increased by 68% in the last six years.

“The size of the lake had dwindled to less than 1,780 square kilometers in 2014. The ULPR helped raise the area to 3,000 km2,” Tajrishi said.

Had it not been for the restoration plan (namely banning dam projects), the lake would have been consigned to history and salt storms would seriously endanger the livelihood of more than six million people over barely a 100-km radius, he noted.


dam Urmia construction Azarbaijan Barandouz Chay Nazlou Chay