People, Environment

Semnan Awaiting Approval of Divisive Water Scheme

Semnan Awaiting Approval of Divisive Water SchemeSemnan Awaiting Approval of Divisive Water Scheme

A top Semnan Province official said they have addressed the environmental issues raised by the critics of the plan to transfer water from the Caspian Sea in the north to the drought-stricken north-central province.

"We're now waiting for the Department of Environment to sign off on the scheme to begin work," Semnan governor-general, Mohammad Reza Khabbaz, was quoted as saying by Mehr News Agency. Khabbaz, a staunch proponent of the scheme, says changes have been made to the plan to address the concerns of the opponents and ensure minimal damage to the environment.

Environment officials and activists are opposed to the interbasin transfer (also called transbasin diversion) of water, which refers to manmade conveyance schemes that move water from one river basin to another basin where water is less available, usually for development purposes.

"But it can be done if it's a last resort and we have exhausted all options. This is the only viable solution," Khabbaz said.

"We've sealed illegal water wells and are working toward revamping our farming practices (to conserve water), but we still have not managed to address our problem."

He claimed that Semnan "is now the only province that does not have illegal water wells."

  A Promise

The plan requires the construction of a 150-kilometer pipeline that would run through the Hyrcanian Forests, necessitating the need to cut down trees in the ecologically-rich woodlands.

To address this issue, Khabbaz said they have suggested using two smaller pipelines running above and below an existing oil pipeline that is not in use anymore.

"This way, no trees will be cut down and that is a promise," he added.

Another issue raised by the opponents is the fact that desalinating the water, which usually involves dumping the retrieved salt back into the sea, poses a threat to marine life.

"We don't need to do that because we can actually use the salt here … Our treatment facilities will be equipped to separate sodium and potassium from the water," he said.

The official criticized the plan's opponents, saying they "haven't done their research and make wild claims about the amount of water that will be siphoned from the sea, which is in reality only 200 billion cubic meters a year."

  Political and Social Issues

The critics are adamant that there are more feasible and economically viable solutions to the problem.

According to Saeed Motessadi, deputy for human environments at the DOE, judicious use of water is a far more effective solution than transferring it.

"Up to 30% of water are wasted in our supply network, while the agriculture sector guzzles 90% of our entire water resources every year, with a mere 30 to 40% efficiency," he said.

"There is no point in transferring water if it's going to be wasted again … Addressing those issues will go a long way in solving our water problems."

Mohammad Darvish, the head of DOE's Public Participation Office, said there are political and social reasons to oppose the scheme. 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, which leaves the extent of territorial waters and sharing formula rather vague.

The Caspian Sea is shared among five countries: Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

Darvish claims by going ahead 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 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,” he said.