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Iran Pushing to Finalize New Water, Power Deals

The government is making efforts to revive Lake Urmia, once Iran’s largest salt lake that dried up a few years back and has now reduced to a thin body of water
The country’s push in the power industry is buoyed by the rapidly growing interest of foreign companies in Iran’s renewable industry.The country’s push in the power industry is buoyed by the rapidly growing interest of foreign companies in Iran’s renewable industry.

Iran is finalizing a flurry of new deals in the water and power sectors while efforts are underway to restore a large and shrunken lake in northwest Iran, one of the country's biggest environmental challenges in years, the caretaker energy minister said.

"Water and power industries are capital-intensive. About €10 billion ($11.8 billion) in foreign finance agreements [for water and power projects] are being examined and finalized by the energy and economy ministries," Sattar Mahmoudi was also quoted as saying by ILNA on Saturday.

He expected the government to unveil some of the new investments in an official ceremony in the next few months.

The statements by the caretaker energy minister came ahead of a parliamentary meeting on Sunday to vote on Reza Ardakanian, the new nominee for the ministry.

In August, lawmakers approved 16 of President Hassan Rouhani's 17 picks for ministerial posts while Habibollah Bitaraf, the proposed energy minister, failed to get enough votes.

Mahmoudi added that the government attracted more than 4 trillion rials (about $1 billion) in private finance for water and wastewater projects in the last four years.

According to government officials, Iran has also signed over $10 billion worth of deals to expand or renovate electrical infrastructure since last year's lifting of international sanctions over Tehran's nuclear dispute.

The country's push in the power industry is also buoyed by the rapidly growing interest of foreign companies in Iran's renewable industry.

According to Iran's Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Organization, international investors have proposed $4.1 billion worth of renewable power projects since last year's lifting of sanctions. They include a $2.9-billion preliminary agreement with Norway's Saga Energy and a $600-million contract with London-based Quercus to build solar plants in Iran.

--- Lake Urmia

Mahmoudi pointed to efforts to revive Lake Urmia, once Iran's largest salt lake that dried up a few years back and has now reduced to a thin body of water.

"Overall, Lake Urmia has recovered from a steep downward spiral … The lake's level has not receded from the previous month's level," Mahmoudi said, partly blaming low precipitation for the lake's slower-than-expected recovery.

"One problem is that the rainfall has dropped 38% in and around Lake Urmia," he said.

Experts hope the lake's restoration program will get a fresh impetus if Ardakanian, touted as environmentally conscious, becomes the next energy minister.

When Lake Urmia was full 20 years ago, it was estimated to contain around 30 billion cubic meters of water.  At the worst point, it accounted for a mere 0.5 bcm of saltwater.  The number now stands at around 2.5 bcm, according to a United Nations' report in March that also said the "deadly decline has been reversed and the amount of water now keeps increasing month by month".

A study published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research showed the lake’s surface area in September 2014 was about 12% of its average size in the 1970s, a far bigger fall than previously realized, the Guardian reported in 2015.

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