By Maryam Qarehgozlou

Too precious to lose: What brought back Lake Urmia to life? 

April 26, 2019

TEHRAN —Subsequent to heavy rainfalls in the country, many long-lost wetlands and lakes were restored, among which Lake Urmia “the turquoise solitaire of Azarbaijan” was the most conspicuous.

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

However, decades of long-standing drought spells and elevated hot summer temperatures that speed up evaporation as well as increased water demands in agriculture sector shrank the lake drastically. In 1999 the volume of water which was at 30 billion cubic meters drastically decreased to half a billion cubic meters in 2013. Moreover, the lake surface area of 5,000 square kilometers in 1997 shrunk to one tenth of that to 500 square kilometers in 2013.

Kiumars Daneshjoo, CEO of West Azarbaijan regional water company said on Wednesday that the volume of water in the Lake Urmia has increased to 4.1 billion cubic meters which shows a 2-fold increase compared to the same period last year.

Images published on NASA Earth Observatory website, acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite, compare Lake Urmia on April 9, 2018, and April 12, 2019 showing the improvement the lake’s has made within a year.

Moreover, Daneshjoo added that the volume of water has risen by about 3 billion cubic meters compared to the beginning of the current water year (September 23, 2018).

He went on to highlight that the lake’s catchment area has received some 479 millimeters of precipitations since the start of the current water year indicating a 61-percent rise compared to last year.

He noted that some 1.5 billion water was released from the dams to enter the lake since September 23 reporting that the lake’s surface area reached roughly 3,000 square kilometers. The lake’s surface area has increased 677 square kilometers compared to the same period last year, he added.

In late March and early April 2019, 28 of Iran’s 31 provinces were affected by devastating flooding from the rain.

Intense rains during the fall of 2018 and spring 2019 seem to be the main cause of this fresh pulse of water not only in Lake Urmia but also all other wetlands nationwide.

While the lake is again showing signs of life and seems to gain its former glory some officials believe that recent rainfalls are not the main reasons behind lake’s restoration stating that measures taken by the Lake Urmia Restoration Program have mainly revived the lake.

In an interview with IRNA news agency published on Friday Masoud Tajrishi, deputy environment chief, has claimed that releasing water from the dams as well as proper dredging practices have revived Lake Urmia.

He went on to say that while the regions received the same amount of precipitations in water year 2006-2007 the lake didn’t show any signs of revival. Same thing happened in water year 2009-2010 and the lake didn’t return to life rather the water level dropped by 43 centimeters, he added.

Tajrishi believes that by removal of sediments and debris from the bottom of lake over the past four years the lake sprang into life after recent rainfalls.

While Tajrishi and some other officials believe that Lake Urmia couldn’t survive if it wasn’t for measures taken over the past few years by Lake Urmia Restoration program, many other lakes across the country are now covered with water fully or partially without any restoration programs.

Without torrential rains no substantial amount of water would be stored behind the dams to be released to enter the wetlands.

Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian said in late March that heavy rainfalls in Iran has filled 70 percent of dams and resulted in restoration of drained wetlands across the country saying that volume of water stored behind the dams stands at 35 billion cubic meters while the amount measured at 23 billion cubic meters in the same period last year.

Issa Kalantari, chief of Iran’s Department of Environment, said in late March that 90 percent of the wetlands nationwide are now restored.

National Drought Warning and Monitoring Center (NDWMC) data shows that since the beginning of the current water year (starting on September 23, 2018) the whole country has received 293.5 millimeters of precipitation on average and this is while the average precipitation the country received over the last water year (September 2017-September 2018) amounts to 120.8 milliliters.

MQ/MG

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