EghtesadOnline: Underground water resources in the parched Isfahan Province are disappearing by 3.6 billion cubic meters per annum, head of the Water Conservation Department of the provincial water company said.
“Of the total annual extraction, 3.3 bcm is taken out from 41,000 authorized wells and the rest from 21,000 illegal wells,” Mehdi Mirbaqeri complained, IRNA reported.
Almost 7,000 unauthorized wells have been sealed since 2005 which helped save 215 million cubic meters of water a year in the dry central region, he noted.
More than 1,200 illegal wells were sealed in the past 12 months, but the water company is apparently fighting a losing battle as the province is caught in a vicious cycle of worsening water deficits.
“The more wells we seal, the more they (farmers) dig illegally,” he said concurring that the well sealing programs are not producing the desired results in the main farming regions and in areas where people own big horticultural land.
Imposing stringent rules and spreading the culture of frugal consumption together can help put an end to the vicious cycle as 80% of the province is suffering from dry and disturbing water conditions to varying degrees.
Located in an arid region with minimal rain, Isfahan has been struggling with drought for years, which has resulted in drying up of the famous Zayandehroud River.
Mirbaqeri emphasized the urgency to convince farmers to use less groundwater resources or face severe drier consequences as the wells dry up.
There is no dry-land farming in Isfahan due to low precipitation (120 millimeters a year). Groundwater tables and aquifers supply most of the farming needs. Only 569,000 hectares (about 5%) of the province’s 10 million hectares are arable.
Water flow into the Zayandehroud Dam reached 1.2 billion cubic meters in 2017. Now it has halved.
Of the total flow, 300 mcm is used for drinking and the rest sold to industries.
According to Hashem Amini, head of the provincial water company, the need to treat and reuse wastewater is crucial to cope with the worsening water crisis.
“Almost 172 million cubic meters of wastewater is recycled in the province every year,” he said, adding that of the total, 60% or 100 mcm is used for farming and the rest for industries, green spaces, maintaining watersheds and anti-desertification programs.
After Yazd, Isfahan is the second biggest industrial hubs in the country and 70% of Iran’s steel is manufactured in this province, which explains why tapping into unconventional water resources has become a pressing priority.
Zayandehroud originates in the mountains of Chaharmahal-Bakhtiari Province and flows eastward toward Isfahan before ending up in Gavkhouni Wetland. Officials say Isfahan's struggle with drought has made it difficult to supply farms with dam water while upholding the water rights of Zayandehroud and Gavkhouni.
Disorganized urbanization, old and obsolete farming practices and the presence of water-intensive industries such as Mobarakeh Steel Company are imposing increasing pressure on the region’s rapidly dwindling water reserves.
Energy Ministry data show that the number of wells in Iran has increased by 1,400% over the past 57 years. There were 60,000 wells in 1963. The number has now jumped to 900,000, resulting in slow but steady land subsidence in the country.
Though reversing land subsidence is now not possible, slowing its progress is doable if the will exists and the government and public cooperate.
Besides land subsidence, groundwater overdraft may lead to destruction of vegetation, increase dust storms and holes in the plains and higher salt content in groundwater.
Illegal water wells have emerged as a dilemma for the water authorities struggling to curb high extraction and consumption rates, namely in the major agricultural regions.