EghtesadOnline: The water level in Iran’s largest inland body of water (Lake Urmia) which was showed marked improvement in 2020, is falling, head of the Urmia Lake Restoration Project said.
“The current slump in water level is largely the result of depriving the lake of its water rights from dams in West Azarbaijan Province,” Farhad Sarkhosh was quoted as saying by ISNA.
The water level that was close to 1,271.9 meters last September has now declined by 40 centimeters. The Energy Ministry had said the troubled lake would receive 650 million cubic meters of water from Salmas, Zola, Boukan, Agh-Chai, Shahre-Chai, Mahabad, Aras and Sarouq dams (in West Azarbaijan Province) between September 2020 and March 2021. However, so far less than 150 mcm of water has been pumped into the lake, Sarkhosh complained.
“The ministry blames low rainfall in the region as a result of which the water in dams has plunged 10% compared to a year ago to reach 960 mcm.”
Unlike most countries where protecting the environment is central, Iran’s Energy Ministry’s first priority is farmers and not the lake, he said.
Decrying controversial government policies, lack of vision, unfulfilled environmental promises and poor water management, Sarkhosh said in 2017 when the region was saddled with a major drought and dams had much less water (around 800 mcm), the Urmia Lake received its water share (450 mcm).
The ministry made an error of judgment in diverting the lake’s much-needed water to the (water-intensive) farming sector, he was quoted as saying.
Such stopgap solutions, he stressed, are harmful to the lake for the restoration of which $1 billion was spent in the past decade.
“If the lake dries up, salt storms will seriously endanger the livelihood of more than six million people living in an area covering 100 km.”
Debate over the potential health hazards related to Lake Urmia became a regular feature of the local media in 2013 (before the ULRP was mandated to stabilize the lake’s water level), with those involved in the restoration program pointing to cancer, high blood pressure and respiratory diseases as the main dangers of the drying lake.
Local rural residents and even those as far as Tabriz inhaled salt-laden and polluted air between 2013 and 2015, leading to high blood pressure. Increase in the volume of particles in the air posed a grave danger to public health.
The lake's water level has reached 1,271.5 meters, about 250 centimeters higher compared to 2014 when the level was barely 1,269 meters. The lake now holds 3.8 bcm of water -- 1 bcm less than in 2018.
In related news, the news agency quoted Masoud Tajrishi, the ULRP deputy for planning affairs, as saying that lake's water level is expected to drop further due to high temperatures forecast for this summer.
"With forecasts saying that this summer the temperature would be 1.8 degrees Celsius warmer than last year, decline in water levels due to evaporation would be normal."
Close to 1.6 billion cubic meters of water usually evaporates from the lake between June and September, he said. “Due to evaporation, the lake's water level is expected to fall by 50 centimeters.”
Putting daily evaporation at about 18 million cubic meters, he said precipitation in the world famous lake is down 15% compared to a year ago.
“Last year (Sept 2019- March 2021) rainfall in the catchment area was good compared to the long-term average (230 millimeters). This year it has dropped by 30 millimeters.”
Once the second-largest saltwater lake in the Middle East, it attracted birds and bathers to bask in its turquoise waters in northwest Iran. Then beginning in the 1970s, nearly three decades of drought and high water demand shriveled the basin, shrinking it by a shocking 80%.
The lake supports unique biodiversity and its wetlands have been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Biosphere reserves are areas comprising terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems. Each reserve promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use.
Located between the provinces of East and West Azarbaijan, Lake Urmia is a closed water body fed through 21 permanent and 39 seasonal rivers.