EghtesadOnline: While officials say water transfer from the Caspian Sea to Semnan Province is the only solution to meet the growing demand of farmers and industries, environmentalists and economic experts insist it is an existential threat to the fragile ecosystem.
Deputy governor of Semnan for civil affairs, a known advocate of the water transfer project, said Saturday that it is necessary to move forward with the controversial plan as soon as possible since the water issue is a serious challenge affecting the region’s development plans.
Marathon debates have been held “in this regard and the necessary permits have been issued,” Manouchehr Fakhri said, ISNA reporte.
The Caspian-Semnan Water Transfer Project is planned to divert 100 mcm of desalinated water per year to the central plateau. According to estimates, it will cost $1.3 billion, Fakhri said.
Regarding funds, he said the Energy Ministry and organizations such as the Industrial Development & Renovation Organization of Iran (IDRO) and Iranian Mines & Mining Industries Development & Renovation Organization (IMIDRO) are supposed to put up the cash.
The managing director of Semnan Regional Water Company, Iraj Heydarian, said: “Environmental permits for the Caspian water project have been issued by the head of the Department of Environmental.”
Amid all the pros and cons, those opposed to the megaproject have warned that it is reckless and a disaster is expected to happen.
The representative of Aliabad-e-Katul in the Majlis demanded at the weekend that the government end the transfer project.
“We believe the Caspian water transfer to Semnan will wipe out forests in Aliabad-e-Katul County and Golestan Province” and unleash an environmental disaster, Rahmatollah Norouzi said.
Prominent conservatives have made known in unequivocal terms that even if the plan benefits Semnan it is bad news for the green and serene northern regions of Golestan and Mazandaran -- the two main tourist hubs in Iran for centuries.
“Of the 160 km the Caspian water pipeline to reach Semnan, 120 km has to pass Mazandaran. Laying such a huge pipeline in the green province means destruction of at least 100 hectares of the world famous Hyrcanian Forests. The lush green forests covered 3.6 million hectares 50 years ago. Today it is near 1.6 million hectares,” Abbasqoli Jahani, a former member of the World Water Council, said.
Recalling harmful interbasin water transfers, large-scale dam constructions and unbridled exploitation of natural resources, experts have warned the government that the Caspian project is another name for irreversible damage to the Hyrcanian Forests bordering the southern shores of the Caspian Sea.
Transferring water from the Caspian Sea to Semnan would destroy pristine nature and convert it into desert areas like Yazd and Isfahan -- permanently fixated on water deficits.
“Moreover, pumping water from the Caspian would eventually lead to an increase in the sea’s salinity and endanger the habitats it supports. The plan involves siphoning 100 million cubic meters of water out of the sea a year after desalination,” Jahani added.
Desalination extracts mineral components from saline water, but it also produces huge quantities of brine, which is usually dumped back into the sea and eventually eradicates all marine life.
Brine is denser than seawater and therefore sinks to the bottom of a water body, directly harming the ecosystem. Destruction of the sea’s biodiversity will also take a toll on the livelihood of local communities largely dependent on fishing.
Moreover, Mohammad Darvish, an expert at the Research Institute for Forests and Range and director of the Public Participation Office of the Department of Environment, believes that the transfer project is futile because a large part of it will be wasted due to seepage and rusting pipelines in households and industrial and farming sectors in Semnan Province.
“Currently an estimated 300 mcm of water is wasted because of old farming systems and a large volume (200 mcm) of drinking water is lost,” he added.
What is worrying environmentalists and climatologists is the fact that governments are willing to spend huge amounts on sea water transfer but do little to reduce water waste, Darvish complained.
Experts like Darvish and academicians including Parviz Kardavani, a veteran eremologist and prominent faculty member of Tehran University, say that the colossal amounts that will spent on sea water transfers should instead be used to educate the people and help researchers propose efficient water conservation technologies.