in the current water year (started Sept. 23, 2014), 135 million cubic meters of water enter the critically-endangered Lake Urmia, according to an official involved in the Urmia Lake Restoration Program.
Speaking to IRNA, Masoud Tajrishi, the head of the program’s scientific working group, said due to moderate rainfall and diverting water from reservoirs, “billions of cubic meters of water” have entered the lake.
He said: “In the last 10 years, the lake’s water-level declined by an average of 40 cm every year, but last year Urmia lost 4 cm less water. By the end of the water year, we expect the lake to lose 17 cm less water.”
Efforts to revive Iran’s largest inland body of water have gained momentum under President Hassan Rouhani’s administration.
During the 10th National Environment Awards held in June to commemorate World Environment Day, Rouhani said protecting the environment is his administration’s priority and labeled his government “environmentally-friendly”.
The launch of Urmia Lake Restoration Program is one of his government’s first initiatives.
In late July, it was announced that the government allocated $343 million to implement restoration projects, including better water management and reducing farmers’ water use, to revive the lake.
The administration is also mulling over purchasing the water rights of farmers around Lake Urmia. The scheme, which is to be implemented over five years, aims to purchase 40% of irrigation waters used by farmers.
Earlier this week, Isa Kalantari, head of the program, told the Persian daily Sharq the plan will not impact farmers’ crop output, adding that with the implementation of modern, efficient technology “[farmers] will be able produce the same amount of crop with 40% less water.”
In another move, the government issued a directive last week banning all agricultural development projects in the immediate vicinity of Lake Urmia. The directive was communicated to the ministries of energy, interior, agriculture and industries by First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri.
The ministries are tasked with enforcing the directive and presenting monthly reports.
Located in West Azarbaijan Province, Lake Urmia in the past was twice as large as Luxembourg and the largest saltwater lake in the Middle East.
However, it has currently shrunk drastically due to a variety of factors, including the construction of a 15-km causeway that slices the lake in half to shorten travel time between Urmia and Tabriz.
Called by the Lost Angeles Times a “holiday haven”, the lake is now a shadow of its former self. A toxic combination of wasteful irrigation practices, the damming of feeder rivers, prolonged drought and a warming climate has accelerated the decline of the storied lake, noted in the historical accounts of various civilizations dating back millennia.
Today, the lake contains only 5% of the amount of water it did just 20 years ago.
Kalantari, a former agriculture minister and senior advisor to Jahangiri on water and environmental affairs, has said replenishing and saving water in the lake has proven difficult, “but we cannot stop trying because the consequences of the lake’s desiccation are dire.”
Experts say if the lake dries up, it will affect all life in a 100-kilometer radius, forcing residents of metropolises such as Tabriz and Urmia to evacuate.