Plans to Build Shafaroud Dam

Plans to Build Shafaroud Dam Plans to Build Shafaroud Dam

The Energy Ministry is set to proceed with the construction of the controversial Shafaroud Dam in northern Iran, despite staunch opposition from Iran’s top environmental authorities and activists.

Located on Shafaroud River in Gilan Province about 65 kilometers from the provincial capital Rasht, the dam’s construction will result in the decimation of a substantial portion of the ecologically-diverse Caspian Hyrcanian forests.

The ministry and the Gilan Regional Water Authority argue that the construction of the dam is necessary to address Iran’s severe water shortage.

On the other hand, opponents of the project, including the Department of Environment and the Forests, Range and Watershed Management Organization, counter by pointing out that Gilan’s high annual rainfall overrides the need for a dam.

With 1,200 millimeters per annum—4.5 times above national and 1.2 times above global average—Gilan boasts the highest annual rainfall in Iran.

Nevertheless, the dam’s construction is set to go ahead without undergoing an environmental assessment.

“The DOE’s opposition makes no difference,” Touraj Fat’hi, a water expert, told Mehr News Agency.

“The [energy] ministry has a habit of submitting construction proposals to the DOE right before work is set to begin.”

According to the expert, conducting a thorough environmental assessment at that point is nigh impossible—not to mention pointless—because the project has already secured the necessary funds.

“So even if the DOE rejects a proposal at that point, the project won’t be scrapped because of all the time and money spent on it,” he said.

Recalling Gotvand Dam in Khuzestan Province, Fat’hi said the DOE vehemently opposed its construction, “but they went ahead and built it anyway”.

The department accuses the Iran Water and Power Resources Company of failing to disclose information about the presence of salt domes in what is today the dam’s reservoir in their project proposal.

The submerged salt domes led to a substantial increase in the salinity of Karoun River, which contributed to the death of 400,000 palm trees in Arvandkenar last year.


DOE chief, Massoumeh Ebtekar, said on Saturday revisions made to the project proposal ensure only 90 hectares of forestland will be submerged, as opposed to the initial 300 hectares.

Nevertheless, she stressed that her department “has not yet approved the construction”.

However, the cash-strapped DOE is under severe pressure to cave in and approve the project, according to Mohammad Darvish, director of Education and Public Participation Office at the department.

“Due to a lack of funds, we cannot fight on every front. Sometimes we are forced to make concessions,” he was quoted as saying by ISNA.

Darvish said proponents of the project are using Iran’s water shortage as an “excuse” to build the dam, “which means approximately 1 million trees will be cut down”.

  Deadbeat Dams

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” said a baffled Amir Abdoos, a former Gilan DOE chief, to the Persian news website Khabar Online.

“They should be building a dam of this magnitude in a region where the need for water is paramount, especially downstream,” he said, referring to provincial water officials’ claim that rice farms located downstream of Shafaroud need the water.

The former official said since downstream farms are all fertile and undertake a large amount of cultivation, there is no need for a dam.

“Their reasoning would only be justified if the downstream lands were barren, but they are all thriving,” he said, adding that those farms are also “conveniently located close to the Caspian Sea”.

Pointing to the global drive to move away from dams in favor of more eco-friendly alternatives, such as judicious water use and water reclamation and recycling, Abdoos said, “At a time when the developed world is tearing down deadbeat dams, why we’re so adamant to build more is a mystery.”

On UNESCO’s Tentative List of Heritage Sites since 2007, the Caspian Hyrcanian forests are of utmost social, biological and economic importance, and host a number of protected sites. They covers five provinces, stretching east to west along the southern border of the Caspian Sea, covering the provinces of North Khorasan, Golestan, Mazandaran, Gilan and Ardabil.