Sep 5, 2020, 12:40 PM
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Last step for revival of Urmia Lake

Orumiyeh, Sept 5, IRNA – The first election promise by President Hassan Rouhani made in 2014 was revival of Urmia Lake project carried out over the past seven years by spending 10,000 billion Tomans.

Lake Urmia, located between East and West Azarbaijan provinces, was once the largest salt-water lake in the Middle East. It is habitat to many migratory and indigenous animals, including flamingos, pelicans, egrets, and ducks, and attracts hundreds of tourists every year who had bathed in the water to take advantage of the therapeutic properties of the lake.

Urmia Lake began shrinking in the mid-2000s due to decades of longstanding drought spells and elevated hot summer temperatures. According to international statistics, the lake lost about 80 percent of its waterbed by 2015.

In a coordinated effort to save the lake in 2013, Iran started a joint project with the UN Development Program (UNDP) funded jointly by the Iranian and the Japanese governments. The revival efforts, therefore, focused on redirecting rivers to irrigate farmland, thus avoiding the use of water from the lake and the promotion of more sustainable farming methods.

The provincial environment officials hoped that the lake would reach its ecological level by 2025.

The drying up of Urmia Lake was raised for the first time at the cabinet in 2013 when President Rouhani convened his first meeting at the beginning of his first term which was welcomed by surprise among Iranians, people of Azarbaijan, in particular.

*** The first step to revive Lake Urmia

The first step to revive the dying lake in the 11th government was taken by forming the Urmia Lake Restoration Program making involved several ministers in the related areas.

Then 27 plans were launched to solve the problem of haze around Urmia Lake which caused the process to accelerate by early 2015.

These plans included interbasin water transfer, water consumption reduction in agricultural sections, increasing water entrance to the lake, and even using wastewater capacity by observing environmental standards.

Now, after seven years since the plans have been launched, most of them have been finalized or are in the final stages of implementation.

The Urmia Lake began shrinking in the mid-2000s due to decades of longstanding drought spells and elevated hot summer temperatures. According to international statistics, the lake lost about 80 percent of its waterbed by 2015.

*** The role of river dredging in the entry of more than 2 billion cubic meters of water into Lake Urmia

"There have been delays in implementing the measures necessary to save the lake," Hadi Bahadori an Iranian former member of parliament said in an interview with media in 2019 adding that the unreasonable insistence on self-sufficiency in all agricultural products hampers efforts to revive Iran's shrinking Urmia Lake.

"Unfortunately, rainfall in the province has dropped by 40% this year, and it is natural that if there is no rainfall, no water will flow into rivers to enter the lake," added Bahadori, who represents Urmia, the capital of West Azarbaijan Province, in the parliament. 

"However, we could take measures to make up for the inflow despite the lack of rainfall," he said.

Bahadori believes that planting crops that do not require much water is one of the water-saving techniques that has long been ignored.

"The cultivation pattern should be compatible with the environment. But at present, the pattern is incompatible and water-intensive crops are being cultivated in the catchment area of Urmia Lake," he said.

"Some of the water-hogging crops planted near the lake are apples and sugarbeet. Apple trees have been planted over 93 hectares in the catchment area."

Bahadori suggests crops that need less water such as pistachios, hazelnuts, almonds, and grapes should be cultivated instead.

*** 100,000 billion Rials investment in restoration process

According to statistics, the revival project of Urmia Lake was planned to be complete by the end of the current Iranian year (March 20, 2021).

The major share of the project which started six years ago would finish by the year-end and the project included phases to transfer water from the Zab River to Urmia Lake.

Head of Iran's Plan and Budget Organization Mohammad Baqer Nobakht who recently had gone to the region to supervise the final stages of restoration,  Speaking to IRNA said that a 26cm increase in the level of the lake and 89 square km in its width indicated the success of the plan for the revival of Urmia Lake.

The senior government official further noted that Urmia Lake revival cost 10,000 billion Tomans.

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