New Twist in Caspian Water Transfer Debate

New Twist in Caspian Water Transfer DebateNew Twist in Caspian Water Transfer Debate

The controversial plan to transfer water from the Caspian Sea to the drought-hit Semnan Province has gained itself a surprising supporter in a renowned environmentalist and drought/desert expert.

Dismissing arguments made by critics of the scheme, namely Department of Environment chief Massoumeh Ebtekar, Parviz Kardovani told ISNA that the plan “is one of the most feasible and financially-viable projects of its kind in the country.”

Critics have long argued that pumping water from the sea will eventually lead to an increase in the Caspian Sea’s salinity, endangering the countless habitats it supports. But Kardovani disagrees.

“Nearly 80% of the sea’s water inflow comes from freshwater sources. So to say that transferring water from the Caspian Sea increases its salinity is simply not true,” he said.

Pointing to the project to pump water from the Persian Gulf in the south to Kerman Province — which he also supports — Kardovani said the southern body of water is three times as salty as the Caspian Sea, yet the plan is rarely criticized.

“The Persian Gulf project is meant to supply water to industries in Kerman; therefore, it has to be implemented,” he said. “It’s imperative to support our industries as they are among our important assets.”

  Cost Factor  

Kardovani said he had been contacted by “some people” in the northern Mazandaran Province to “enlist my support against the scheme,” but he rejected the calls. He did not say who or what organization had contacted him on the critical subject.

“I told them there is no good reason why we shouldn’t supply Semnan water from the Caspian Sea. The Persian Gulf project requires a 750-kilometer pipeline, while the Caspian Sea plan needs a 150km pipeline.

“Their argument that the plan has dire environmental impact is baseless,” the expert added.

It is argued that meeting the province’s water demand from the Caspian will come at a prohibitive cost for the consumers, with some going as far as saying that consumers in Semnan will end up paying the highest water tariff in the country.

However, Semnan Province officials spearheaded by governor-general Mohammad Reza Khabbaz insist that transferring water to Semnan will not cost much.

“In fact, at 38,000 rials ($1.05) per cubic meter, it’s among the more affordable schemes,” Khabbaz was quoted as saying in February.

  Feasible Alternatives

Critics say there are more feasible, better and lasting solutions to the province’s water woes.

Rain water harvesting, judicious water use (especially in the agro sector), promoting modern  irrigation techniques, recycling wastewater, separating potable water from wastewater and implementation of watershed plans are among measures suggested by experts to help conserve and save water.

For years environmentalists, social scientists and the cross-section of academia and media have appealed to the masses to cut water consumption. Apparently the calls have fallen on deaf ears and during summers the government has been compelled to introduce water rationing in some parts of the country. Water has been supplied to many rural areas in the recent past via trucks and at obviously high cost to the treasury.

Water experts have repeatedly called for policy reforms and advanced farming practices to tackle Iran’s huge and worsening water shortages that have taken the form of a major crisis in recent years. Most observers and senior officials are on record as having said that the root cause of the nationwide problem is mismanagement and waste, and not shortage of the precious resource.

There is a strong consensus that if water consumption patterns don’t change in the near future, many parts of the country will turn into barren desert while entire towns and villages will be totally empty of residents.