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EghtesadOnline: The project to divert water from Zab River along the western borders to the distressed Lake Urmia in the northwest is almost complete and is expected to come on stream in December, director of the National Water and Wastewater Engineering Company of Iran (Abfa) said.

“The scheme is part of measures to help restore the once largest saltwater lake in the Middle East,” Qasem Taqizadeh Khamesi was quoted as saying by IRNA.

The plan comprised a dam (Kani Sib in Piranshahr, West Azarbaijan Province), excavating a 36-km tunnel and digging a 17-km canal.

“The National Water and Wastewater Engineering Company of Iran started work on the project in 2015. So far it has spent $200 million borrowed from the National Development Fund of Iran, the country's sovereign wealth fund.”

According to the official, 600 million cubic meters of water will be pumped annually from the river to the dam and then transferred to the lake through the tunnel and canal.

Referring to international water rights, he said 50% of Zab waters belong to Iran and "we can use it as we want.”

The Tigris River Basin has several sub-basins shared by Iran, Iraq and Turkey. The main shared tributaries are the Great Zab, an approximately 400-kilometer-long river flowing through Turkey and Iraq, and the Little Zab which originates in Iran and joins the Tigris in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.


Tabriz Wastewater Plant 

Referring to similar plans, he said completion of the second phase of a wastewater treatment plant in Tabriz, East Azarbaijan Province, will supply four cubic meters of water per second to Lake Urmia or 125 million cubic meters a year.

“Construction of the plant is 80% complete and will be used by one million people.” An undertaking of Abfa launched in 2016, the firm has spent close to 2,000 billion rials ($10 million), which also was borrowed from the NDF, he said.

The second phase will increase current capacity (130,000 cubic meters per day) to 207,000 cm/d, a large part of which will be diverted to the lake. 

Instead of the conventional activated sludge process, the plant is equipped with step-feed aeration system in which primary effluent enters the aeration tank at several points along the length of the tank, rather than at the beginning or head of the tank.

Currently, seven wastewater processing units are in varying stages of construction in the province and after completion will significantly raise processing capacity, Khamesi said.

With programs to revive Urmia Lake making their mark, over six billion cubic meters of water from dams in West Azarbaijan Province namely Silveh, Zola, Boukan, Aqchai, Shahre-Chai, Mahabad, Aras and Karamabad, has flowed into the world famous lake since 2015.

According to Masoud Tajrishi, the Urmia Lake Restoration Project administrator and director of planning, the size of the lake had dwindled to less than 1,780 square kilometers in 2014 and ULPR helped raise the area to 3,000 km2.

“The surface area of Iran’s largest inland body of water (Lake Urmia) has increased 68% over the past 5 years.”

Had it not been for the restoration plan, the lake would die and salt storms would seriously endanger the livelihood of almost 6.5 million people over a 120-kilometer radius.

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

It started to desiccate 10 years 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 both sides of the lake.


Lake Urmia Water Project Zab River