Iran in pursuit of karst water resources

April 26, 2018

TEHRAN – Iranian authorities are going to study some regions across the country which have high potentials for having karst aquifers and determine the possibility of exploiting such groundwater resources.

Karst and karst aquifers are formed in places where rocks, subjected to dissolving or leaching, are formed, porous and fissured enough to provide active movement of surface and groundwater through them aggressively, i.e. able to dissolve rocks. 

Initial geological researches for karst aquifers were carried out some 2 years ago and the results show that some 11 percent of Iran’s area has the potential for having karst aquifers, IRNA quoted Mas’ud Morsali, an advisor to the director of Iran’s Geological Survey & Mineral Explorations Organization, as saying on Saturday.

Two years ago, the Supreme Council of Water decided to establish a workgroup comprising Energy Ministry, Department of Environment and Geological Survey & Mineral Explorations Organization to carry out research on Iran’s karst aquifers, he added.

The first aim of these researches is to discover groundwater aquifers which are flowing out of the country or into the sea and hence they should be identified as soon as possible, he emphasized.

Another purpose is to replace these resources instead of water transfer projects to provide drinking water in crisis conditions, and hence, arid provinces of Khorasan Razavi and Yazd have priority among others, he added.

Currently, Hezar Masjed Mountains have been chosen for in-depth research, he said, adding that this mountain range is located in Northeastern Iran and crosses some 100 kilometers along Mashhad, Quchan and Bojnurd cities.

The advisor went on to say that some other regions in western Iran, including Kordestan and Kermanshah provinces, have a high potential for karst waters and accordingly will be the next destination of researches.

Iran along with countries like the Czech Republic, France, the United States and China has a great potential when it comes to karst aquifers, he said.

Karst waters are mainly used for drinking all over the world, however, the amount of exploitation and whether it is going to be used by industries or not will be determined by the Energy Ministry, Morsali concluded.

The initial estimations show that Iran has some 300 billion cubic meters of karst waters, however, in times of prolonged drought, this volume can experience a 50 percent decrease, said Hedayat Fahmi, an official with Energy Ministry.

The first karst water project was launched by foreigners nearly 20 years ago in Maharlu region, southern Fars province, he added.

Since these aquifers can be reached in a maximum depth of 150 meters, their exploitation is economically justified, the official pointed.

According to the laws passed by the Supreme Water Council, karst waters will only be used for drinking purpose, he emphasized.

He went on to say that Iran is equipped with the required technology for exploiting Karst waters and there is no need for foreign technologies in this regard.

Trying to illustrate the difference between karst and fossil waters, he said that fossil waters are those aquifers which have been geologically sealed for a significant long period of time.

Fossil waters are highly strategic reservoirs and they should not be exploited except in crisis conditions, he highlighted.

Touching on the long drought which has affected most of the country’s area, he said that the main approach for fighting this challenge is to modify water consumption patterns combined with more efficient water management policies.

What is karst and karst aquifer?

According to the Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems, karst is a landscape characterized by numerous sinkholes, caves and extensive underground drainage that is produced on limestone, gypsum, or dolomite formations by solution or dissolution.

About 25% of the world's population depend on karst aquifers for its water supply, reports the official website of Geological Survey Ireland. In some regions, such as Dinaric region in Europe and Southwest China, karst water contributes to more than 50% of water supply and other areas, such as Damascus in Syria with a population of more than 7 million, depend almost entirely on karst aquifers for water.

Among the characteristics of these aquifers is that they are vulnerable to pollutants and excessive exploitation. Uncontrolled utilization of these water reservoirs is very dangerous since these aquifers move very slowly and need years or even decades to be substituted and hence, excessive exploitation can endanger the entire aquifer forever.

Low precipitation rate and drought in Iran has provoked a wave of requests among officials for discovering new water resources. Almost all experts believe that facing water challenge is not the mere discovery of new resources. Any solution for water challenge should include refining water consumption patterns. As long as we waste water in agriculture, industry and home sectors, any new introduced water resource would be fully exploited and one day, we may run out of water, completely.

MAH/MG

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