EghtesadOnline: Effective programs have been implemented to revive the troubled Urmia Lake and environment officials in East and West Azarbaijan province hope Iran’s largest inland body of water should reach its ecological level (1,274 meters above sea level) by 2025.
According to IRNA, the first step to recover the dying lake was taken in 2013 when the Urmia Lake Restoration Program (ULRP) was announced and 27 plans were launched to resolve the problem of salt storms around the lake that had endangered the livelihood of six million people in a 100-kilometer radius by early 2015.
Some of the schemes included interbasin water transfer, curbing water consumption in the agro sector, increasing water flow to the lake and using wastewater by upholding environmental standards.
According to a report by the Iran Water Resources Management Company (subsidiary of the Energy Ministry), seven years since the action plans were launched most are either complete or in the final stages.
Based on satellite images, the size of the lake had dwindled to less than 1,780 square kilometers in 2014. The ULRP helped raise the area and now it stretches over 2,808 km2 with 3.3 billion cubic meters of water, the report said.
Efforts (by the government, international organizations including the UNDP) to save water within the drainage basin of the lake have been rewarding and the lake now is 1,271 meters above sea level that is 1.32 meters higher compared to seven years ago.
Referring to major impediments to the ULRP, the report said the unreasonable and unwanted insistence on self-reliance in all important agricultural products is hampering efforts to revive Urmia Lake.
According to Hadi Bahadori, a lawmaker who represents Urmia, the capital of West Azarbaijan Province, planting crops that do not require much water is one of the water-saving techniques that has long been disregarded.
"Farming must be compatible with the environment. But at present, the pattern is unsustainable and water-intensive crops are grown in the catchment area of the lake," he said.
Some of the water-hogging crops planted near the lake are apples and sugar beet over 93 hectares in the region.
Bahadori suggested crops that need less water such as pistachios, hazelnuts, almonds and grapes should be cultivated to save the fast dwindling precious resource.
Located between the provinces of East and West Azarbaijan, Urmia Lake is a closed water body fed through 21 permanent and 39 seasonal rivers.
Desiccation started a decade ago due to a variety of factors, including the construction of a 15-km causeway to shorten travel time between Urmia and Tabriz cities and construction of several dams that have choked off water supply from the mountains on either side of the lake.
Dam Levels Receding
In related news, IRNA said according to IWRMC, the amount of water stored in dams is falling.
An estimated 27 billion cubic meters of water is stored in dams, down 29% compared to this time last year. Dams can collectively hold 50 billion cubic meters but now are 54% full. Last year this time it was 68%.
The falling levels of stored water is not only due to decline in precipitation but also the spread of the coronavirus as more people tend to wash and clean and follow hygienic protocols.
By the end of the last water year (Sept 2019-2020) total volume of water inflow into reservoirs was 55 billion cubic meters. The year before it was 89 bcm.
Although heavy rains between February and April helped increase water levels, the fight against the deadly disease has further pushed up consumption creating in its wake serious concerns about high demand, falling supply and unsustainable (subsidized) water tariffs.