EghtesadOnline: Transferring water from the Caspian Sea to Semnan Province would destroy the pristine nature in the region and convert it to another industrial zone like Yazd and Isfahan that have been grappling with water shortages and associated problems for decades, says an environmental activist and a researcher at the Research Institute for Forests and Rangelands.
“Unlike other provinces where the environment has been deeply affected by unsustainable policies, Semnan so far has seen the least impact. But diverting water into the region will have dire long-term consequences,” Mohammad Darvish told Persian-language Tejarat Farda weekly in an interview.
Criticizing those who link unemployment to water shortages in the province (215km east of Tehran), Darvish noted that “traditional mindsets should change as developing (water intensive) industries is not the only way to create jobs.”
Semnan is and should remain a tourism and ecotourism hub and the budget ($650 million) to transfer water to the area can be allocated to non-polluting industries, Financial Tribune quoted him as saying.
When the province’s water demand (55 million cubic meters a year) can be met by upgrading farming systems and replacing old and rusty water pipelines, why should 200 mcm of desalinated water (four times more than actual demand) be diverted to the central plateau, he asked.
“The plan is more like a populist measure and (in the best case scenario) will address the water crisis in the region for a short period. Decision makers seem to be oblivious to long-term adverse effects, one of which is changing the region to an industrial area in which environmental problems will arise.”
What is worrying environmentalists and climatologists is the fact that governments are willing to spend huge amounts to transfer sea water but do little to reduce water consumption and waste, Darvish complained.
Constructing a huge dam is more appealing for officials than building a small wastewater plant or organizing a one-week workshop to inform public opinion about the effects of water paucity in the country, he added.
Echoing the public stance of socio-economic experts, he went on to say that decision and policy makers “just want to show off and have proved that sustainable economic development is a hollow slogan for them.”
The Semnan water transfer project is estimated to cost $650 million. This is while one-tenth of the amount would be enough to reduce waste, implement water recycling programs and build wastewater treatment plants.
It is indeed regrettable that those in charge are “economical with the truth” when it comes to informing the people about macro projects because it helps them do as they please and nobody criticizes their policies because of lack of proper and timely information, Darvish said.
“Unlike countries in which awareness of the masses determines how powerful an administration is or can be, Iran’s economy depends largely on oil because of which social capital (those who enable society to function effectively) is simply ignored.”
A Costly Undertaking
If and when the Semnan project is completed, delivering a cubic meter of desalinated water to farmers and industries in the region will cost 9 cents. This would be too costly for anyone wanting to start a water-related business or go into farming.
As long as water shortages can be tackled in more cost-effective ways and that the government is struggling to fix its ballooning budget deficit, the logic behind the water transfer plan must be questioned.
Darvish says there is a very strong lobby that has experts, counselors as well as political elite who were once involved in dam construction projects. Now that there are no more dams to build (or this business is not lucrative anymore), they are shifting their money into water transfer projects. Thanks to their influence and connections, they have been able to convince executive bodies to comply with their positions.
Located south of the Alborz Mountain Range and north of the Great Salt Desert or Dasht-e Kavir, Semnan is a city with exceptional natural attractions. Many nature enthusiasts visit the city in spring to fully appreciate its beauty.
Some of Semnan’s most notable natural attractions include Ezhdeha or Dragon Mountain, Semnan Thermal Spring that is said to treat epilepsy, Parvar Protected Area and Arvaneh limestone caves.