People, Environment

Urmia Lake Restoration “Guaranteed”

Officials say Urmia Lake will be revived by 2023.Officials say Urmia Lake will be revived by 2023.

The director of Urmia Lake Restoration Program says the lake’s revival is on track and it will be fully restored with the help of people and the collaboration of government bodies.

Isa Kalantari, also a former agriculture minister who is leading the efforts to revive the imperiled Urmia Lake in northwestern Iran, said last week the “the program’s plans will definitely lead to the complete revival of the lake and return its water level to what it was more than a decade ago”.

Acknowledging the government’s commitment to saving the lake, Kalantari said 3 trillion rials ($88 million) have been allocated to the program for the remainder of the current Iranian year (ends March 20, 2017), ISNA reported.

 “That is a big help,” he added.

Last month, the government of Japan pledged to provide $3.8 million over the next four years to revive the lake as part of a trilateral agreement Tehran signed with Tokyo and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

According to Kalantari, around $8 billion are needed to completely restore the lake.

In addition to Iran’s perennial battle with drought, the lake has dried up drastically due to a host of other factors, including the construction of a 15-kilometer causeway to shorten the travel time between Urmia and Tabriz cities, as well as the construction of several dams that have choked off water supply from the mountains towering on either side of the lake.

To stabilize the lake’s water level, key projects have been implemented in the past three years, the most important of which was undertaken last year.

Following the merger of Zarrinehroud and Siminehroud rivers last year, their water flow was directed toward the lake. Shortly after, the reservoir of Boukan Dam was opened, feeding the lake with about 70 cubic meters of water per second.

The government also approved a project last November to transfer water from Zab River in Kurdestan Province to the lake, which is meant to help counteract its evaporation in summer. Scheduled for completion in 2019, the river will feed around 600 million cubic meters of water annually to Urmia Lake.

  Purchasing Water Rights

To boost the lake’s restoration, the administration banned all agricultural development projects in 2015 in the immediate vicinity of the lake. It is reportedly procuring funds to purchase 40% of the water rights of farmers around the lake in West Azarbaijan Province over five years and has earmarked $60 million for the scheme.

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

“Outdated, inefficient farming practices have no place in today’s world. Iran’s agriculture sector must keep up with technological advancements to stay on the top of the game,” he said.

The ULRP’s mission will end in 2023, when the officials believe the lake will be completely restored, which means keeping Urmia Lake safe  will become a public duty.

“We’ll hand over the reins to the people who have to ensure the lake’s survival by judicious water use,” Kalantari said.

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