Lake Urmia likely to revive in 10 years; building our hopes up?

July 19, 2018

TEHRAN — Chief of West Azarbaijan province’s Department of Environment, Parviz Arasteh, has said that Lake Urmia will be revived within the next 10 years, but is he building our hopes up?

Lake Urmia, was once gloriously shining like a turquoise in northwest Iran, but within 20 years the lake went down the pan as a result of countless dam construction, unfitting agricultural practices, water-inefficient irrigation systems, shortsighted decision making, and not allocating water right of the wetland.

While Arasteh explained that in 1999 the volume of water was at 30 billion cubic meters, now as per the data published on Iran Environment and Wildlife Watch website on April 8, the lake is stretching over some 2,200 square kilometers and the volume of water is measured at some 2 billion cubic meters. 

In order to maintain the lake ecological balance the lake surface area should increase to twice its current size to almost 4,300 square kilometers and the volume of water should be at 14.5 billion cubic meters, Arasteh said, Khabaronline reported on Tuesday. 

“And the restoration will hopefully happen within the next 10 years,” he added. 

However, Arasteh explained that some parts of the lake, stretching over 500 square kilometers cannot be restored anymore and might be landscaped and become a park.

Elsewhere in his remarks the provincial environment chief highlighted that some illegal wells dug around the lake basin are shut down for good.

“There were over 40,000 illegal wells around the lake basin which played a significant role in lake’s disappearance.

“This year [starting on March 21] some 320 million cubic meters of water was discharged to the lake and now out of 5,700 square kilometers of the lake total surface area some 2,250 is covered with water.”

However, just like any other official Arasteh criticized the limited budget allocation as one of the weak points of the lake’s restoration program.

“So far we have only received 35 percent of the proposed budget for lake’s restoration,” he said. 

In September 2017, chief of the Department of Environment Issa Kalantari said that full restoration of the lake requires an annual budget of 20 trillion rials (nearly $460 million but “right now we are short of some 17 trillion rials (nearly $395 million) per annum.”

Masoud Tajrishi, deputy environment chief, told the Tehran Times in December 2017 that in 2016 instead of the pledged 12 billion rials (nearly $300,000) budget only 3 billion rials (nearly $75,000) was actually allocated to the lake’s restoration plan. 

In February, Tajrishi regretted that the government has not allocated budget to the project in the current Iranian calendar year (March 2018-March 2019) and this could do irreparable damage to the lake’s restoration program.

“Unlike building a road [or other construction projects in general] Lake Urmia restoration program or other environmental programs of the kind cannot be postponed; they have to keep going on uninterruptedly and continually,” he said. 

Theoretically speaking Lake Urmia’s restoration might not be beyond belief but it heavily relies on the decisions we make today, meaning whether or not the government is willing to invest on a long-term program to save the future generation from the negative consequence of a degraded ecosystem. 

MQ/MG  

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