Release of dam water important step to save Lake Urmia, expert says
By Aynur Karimova
Iran, in a an attempt to save Lake Urmia from droughts, has decided to release some 40 million cubic meters of water from the Mahabad Dam to rescue the lake.
IRNA reported on March 9 that the sluices of the dam were opened a day earlier and will remain open for 25 more days. Currently, over 178 million cubic meters of water is stored behind the dam, which is 80 million more than the figure recorded in 2015.
Lake Urmia, the biggest inland Iranian lake and the third largest saltwater lake on earth, has shrunk in the past decades and is facing a critical situation. The level of water stood at over 5 billion cubic meters until 1991. It then started falling and decreased to 2.5 billion cubic meters over two decades.
James Dorsey, a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, believes that Iran is following up on suggestions by UN Environment Program and the release of 40 million cubic meters of water from the Mahabad Dam is an important first step in saving Lake Urmia.
"However, a sustainable solution will have to involve a comprehensive integrated water management plan that takes into consideration the basin’s water budget; balances demands for irrigation, ecosystem preservation, social and human impact and water quality; and factors in national and regional political realities," he wrote in an e-mail to Azernews.
The expert also said that the UNEP has long called for saving Lake Urmia either by adjusting within the basin to allow an adequate environmental flow or by importing water from outside the basin to increase water levels and dilute salinity within the lake.
The UNEP suggested already four years ago that importing water holds out the most promise because of the large volume of water needed, he reminded.
Calculations show that Lake Urmia needs 3.1 billion cubic meters of water per year to survive.
The lake is currently in a state of ecological crisis with major impacts on biodiversity and socio-economic conditions as the water level continuously decreased and salt concentration increased, according to the UN Development Program.
Ecologists say that reduced precipitation apparently because of long-term climate change, more water abstraction from rivers and ground water resources. Increasing trends for water and land development projects in provinces, expansion of agricultural lands, use of traditional irrigation systems, existing of unauthorized irrigation wells, planting crops that consume a lot of water are among the main reasons standing behind the current ecological crisis.
They also claim that wrong agricultural policies, traditional irrigation methods, as well as low precipitation and the flow of domestic and industrial waste into the wetland have also led to drought of Lake Urmia.
Ecologists have repeatedly warned that if the Lake Urmia dries out completely, serious environmental hazards will threaten the lives of people in the area, as well as the fauna and flora of the region will drastically suffer from it.
To deal with this problem, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani set up a working group titled the Committee for Urmia Lake Restoration at a cabinet meeting in 2013.
The government has developed a 9-year plan to restore the lake. If the plan goes well, Lake Urmia would return to its full capacity by 2023.
Aynur Karimova is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @Aynur_Karimova