People, Environment

Renewed Resistance to Caspian Water Transfer

Renewed Resistance to Caspian Water Transfer  Renewed Resistance to Caspian Water Transfer

There seems to be no end in sight in the debate over the feasibility of a plan to transfer water from the Caspian Sea in the north to the drought-ridden Semnan Province.

The latest person to weigh in on the controversial matter is Mohammad Darvish, who heads the Public Participation Office at the Department of Environment.

 According to the official, the project will result in large-scale deforestation in the Hyrcanian Forests, which line the southern shores of the Caspian Sea.

“I’m against interbasin transfer of water and completely opposed to any project that aims to divert water from the Caspian Sea,” he told ILNA. “In such projects the costs outweigh the benefits.”

Interbasin transfer or transbasin diversion refers to man-made conveyance schemes which move water from one river basin to another basin where water is less available, usually for development purposes.

  Bad Precedent

He said there are political, social and ecological reasons for his opposition to the project.

The Caspian Sea’s disputed legal status further makes transferring water from the sea complicated. There is still no international agreement about whether to define the Caspian as a sea or a lake — and that leaves the extent of territorial waters and sharing formula rather vague.

The Caspian Sea is shared between five nations: Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Darvish claims by going through with the project, Iran will set a bad precedent.

“Imagine what would happen if each of those countries decided to pump water from the Caspian Sea, desalinate it and transfer the salt and wastewater back to the sea; it’ll eradicate all marine life.”

Additionally, eradication of the sea’s biodiversity will take a toll on local communities that mostly rely on fishing to make a living.

“We’re supposed to address the Caspian Sea’s pollution plight to improve the quality of life of the locals, not destroy the sea’s biodiversity,” the official said as a matter of fact.

Darvish, who is also a researcher at the Research Institute for Forests and Range, said the 150-kilometer pipeline to divert water to Semnan in north central Iran would run through the Hyrcanian Forests, necessitating the need to cut down trees in the ecologically-rich woodlands.

“The forests in northern Iran covered 3.6 million hectares 50 years ago; today, they barely cover 1.6 million, so we really shouldn’t even be debating this. We can’t afford to lose more forests,” he added.

  Temporary Solution, Permanent Problem

Darvish warned against the fallouts of the project in Semnan, citing similar schemes in other provinces that have had adverse environmental impacts.

“If [those in charge at the time] hadn’t carelessly transferred water to every possible location in Isfahan Province, they wouldn’t expand and develop the industrial and agricultural activities to this extent and the residents of Isfahan wouldn’t be struggling with water shortage,” he said.

Likening the Caspian Sea water transfer project to a high-interest loan for Semnan residents, Darvish said the people will end up paying the prohibitive costs for “an unsustainable” water supply.

“Not only have similar projects failed to solve water shortages in other regions, rather they have exacerbated the problem.”

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 and called on officials to undertake meaningful reforms, to no avail.

There is a strong consensus that if water consumption patterns do not 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.