By Faranak Bakhtiari

Water transfer projects: beneficial or detrimental to environment?

November 7, 2020 - 18:33

TEHRAN – Iran inaugurated the first phase of a major water desalination and transfer project on Thursday aiming at alleviating and even meeting the urgent need of central arid areas for water, however, is it really beneficial, or is going to incur irreparable losses to the environment?

Some 163 trillion rials (about $3.88 billion) has been invested in the mentioned project which is being implemented by the Energy Ministry in collaboration with the Industry, Mining, and Trade Ministry.

The project is aimed at desalinating Persian Gulf water and transferring it to Hormozgan and Kerman provinces.

In the first phase of this project, 305 kilometers of pipelines, seven water pumping stations, and 10 electricity substations as well as 150 km of power transmission lines were designed and implemented in addition to constructing several balance tanks and storages.

A number of countries have made attempts to transfer water and have achieved benefits. However, redistribution of water resources is inevitably involved in changes in the ecological environment and endangering nature.

Changes are divided into two negative and positive impacts, including water supply in water-deficient areas, facilitating the water cycle, improving meteorological conditions in the recipient basins, mitigating ecological water shortage, repairing the damaged ecological system, and preserving the endangered wild fauna and flora.

The negative impacts include salinization and acidification of the donor basins, damage to the ecological environment of the donor basins, and both sides of the conveying channel system, an increase of water consumption in the recipient basins, and spread of diseases, etc.

In Iran, two water transfer projects also have been proposed by the government to ensure water supplies for the provinces of Semnan and Sistan-Baluchestan suffering severe water shortages, which have been controversial over the past years.

One of the projects is the water transfer from the Caspian Sea to the central province of Semnan proposed in 2012, but not proceeded at the time due to concerns raised by the department of environment, while is now back on the table and at the planning stage.

The other looked to Oman seawater quenching the thirst of the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, Hormozgan, and Khorasan Razavi provinces, which have been allocated a budget of $400 million by the president in March 2016.

A sustainable way to secure drinking water?

Although the projects are still under research, now a question remains, is the transfer of desalinized water from one geographic region to another a sustainable way to secure drinking water and provide people’s source of income?

Experts believe that these projects entailing economic and environmental burden are no solution to droughts, and demanded the water transfer projects to be dismissed due to the irreparable damages to the environment namely deforestation, wildlife habitat destruction, biodiversity degradation, improper land change use, and contaminated seawater.

In a news piece published by Khabaronline, Mehdi Zare, a seismic expert, said that human intervention, speeding up climate change, is one of the major threats to today’s human life and even the future. One of the threats is that transferring water to dry areas increases the population burden in those areas while imposing unsustainable development where there is no suitable climate for such a concentration.

The disastrous consequences of such interventions have so far been appeared in the country, especially in provinces of Tehran and Isfahan located in arid areas, which have been demolished being accommodated a population of three to five times the size of their carrying capacity in the last 50 years, he lamented.

Additionally, the development of huge industries inappropriately deployed to their climatic conditions added insult to injury, he added.

He went on to note that a mix of rapid population growth, disproportionate population distribution, inefficient agricultural methods, mismanagement, and thirst for development are the main reasons behind water shortages.

This is while, some others are a staunch supporter of water transfer projects as well as the Department of Environment (DOE) chief Issa Kalantari arguing that to provide the amount of water needed for drinking purposes and industries, there is no choice but to use seawater, the incredible and abundant resources, now and in the future.

Water management prevents economic, environmental risks 

Once an efficient permanent solution, water supply schemes are now being considered as the main cause of environmental depletion haunting many parts of the country leading to dried up lakes and rivers, and poor water resources management resulting in excessive water withdrawal is also a major threat to the country’s future.

But it is still not farfetched to implement appropriate water management strategies in order to contain water scarcity before bringing the country heavy economic and environmental risks, which mainly includes changing water consumption patterns, appropriate water billing system, giving people incentive to curb their consumption, promoting agricultural technologies and irrigation systems, capturing rain or floodwaters, recycling wastewater, water reuse and limiting groundwater withdrawal.

Taking steps to increase people's awareness of water shortage, in addition to legislating laws in this regard, considering fines for citizens or industries taking water for granted can be among the effective solution to Iran’s issues with drought.



  • 2020-11-10 13:25
    Thought provoking article indeed.
  • 2020-11-15 02:19
    Water transfer, open air as here or through tubular system China, asks a perfect balance between security, building costs and milieu costs. Only money can not solve this. Good luck.

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