People, Environment

Reduced Agro Water Demand Helping Lake Urmia

Reduced Agro Water Demand Helping Lake UrmiaReduced Agro Water Demand Helping Lake Urmia

Following the implementation of the Sustainable Agriculture Program, water consumption in Lake Urmia’s watershed has declined by 35% and the water level has risen by 15 centimeters since September 23 — the beginning of the current water year.

The program is a joint effort between Iran and Japan and involves local communities’ collaboration to help apply the principles of sustainable agriculture, IRNA quoted Mohsen Soleimani, director of the Conservation of Iranian Wetlands Project, as saying.

“The first phase of the program has so far brought about a reduction in water demand in the region’s farmlands,” he said.

Wasteful farming practices going back ages guzzle 90% of Iran’s water, as the country’s 35% efficiency pales in comparison to the 70% in the developed world.

The first phase was carried out over 30 hectares of the lake’s basin, which is accessed by 41 villages spanning the provinces of East and West Azarbaijan.

The plan has also helped protect the biodiversity of the lake and its surrounding areas and raise public awareness about the importance of environmental conservation, all without affecting the income of farmers. In fact, their income has either remained the same or increased, Soleimani claims.

“Following the launch of the second phase in 75 villages, a memorandum of understanding was signed with the Ministry of Agriculture to help ensure the success of the project,” he said.

Local companies have been tasked with the execution of the second phase.

As part of the MoU, training workshops on water management in farms and conservation tillage will be held in the aforementioned provinces.

 $600m Funding

Earlier this year, the government approved $600 million in funds for the lake’s revival program over the course of the current year that ends on March 19, 2016.

“So far, $21 million has been spent on projects approved by the Urmia Lake Restoration Project in West Azarbaijan, including upgrading irrigation systems in farms,” said Esmaeil Karimzadeh, head of the Agriculture Ministry’s West Azarbaijan office.

He said the cities of Urmia and Miandoab have 29% and 18% of the lake’s water right respectively.

According to Isa Kalantari, the director of ULRP and a former agriculture minister, the impact of the program will emerge by 2019, while efforts to revive the embattled Lake Urmia will pay off by 2023.

In August, it was announced that the government would purchase the water rights of farmers around the lake. The scheme, which is to be implemented over five years, aims to purchase 40% of irrigation waters used by farmers.

According to Kalantari, the plan will not impact farmers’ crop output, adding that with the implementation of modern, efficient technology “[farmers] will be able to produce the same volumes but with 40% less water.”

Furthermore, the government issued a directive earlier this year banning all agricultural development projects in the immediate vicinity of the lake.

Today, the lake contains only 5% of the amount of water it held 20 years ago. Experts say if the lake dries up, it will affect all life over a 100-kilometer radius, even forcing residents of a metropolis like Tabriz to find a dwelling place elsewhere.