TEHRAN (Iran News) – A total of 150 trillion rials (nearly $3.5 billion at the official rate of 42,000 rials) has been earmarked to the restoration of Lake Urmia over the past seven years, chief of the Department of Environment, Issa Kalantari, has said.
During the last seven years, 98 percent of the restoration progress is done, and the Lake will reach its ecological level by March 2022.
In an online ceremony attended by President Hassan Rouhani on Monday, the Lake Urmia futurology center was inaugurated.
In addition, environmental projects worth 9.2 trillion rials (nearly $220 million at the official rate of 42,000 rials) were unveiled. Accordingly, 13 construction projects, including environmental water demand studies for 21 wetlands and rivers in the country, came on stream.
Lake Urmia futurology center opened with the aim of using scientific and technical capacities at the local, national, and international levels, facilitation, and coordination between departments, presenting and expanding successful models of coexistence with Lake Urmia and sustainable use of its resources with public participation, raising awareness of all stakeholders about their environmental rights and responsibilities and increasing public sensitivity and participation.
Lake level declines
Shared between West Azarbaijan and East Azarbaijan provinces in northwestern Iran, Lake Urmia, was once the largest salt-water lake in West Asia. It was home to many migratory and indigenous animals including flamingos, pelicans, egrets, and ducks, and attracted hundreds of tourists every year who had bathed in the water to take advantage of the therapeutic properties of the lake.
However, decades of long-standing drought spells and elevated hot summer temperatures that speed up evaporation as well as increased water demands in the agriculture sector shrank the lake drastically. In 1999 the volume of water which was at 30 billion cubic meters drastically decreased to half a billion cubic meters in 2013. Moreover, the lake surface area of 5,000 square kilometers in 1997 shrunk to one-tenth of that to 500 square kilometers in 2013.
Lake’s surface area has reached up to 2,917 square kilometers, indicating 1,582 square kilometers increase in comparison to 2013 when the Lake Urmia Restoration Program began.
The level of Lake Urmia has reached 1,271 meters, which indicates an increase of over 1.39 meters compared to the lowest volume recorded. However, it still needs 9.5 billion cubic meters of water to reach its ecological level.
The above normal levels of rain came to help conservation measures to preserve Lake Urmia, but, this year, the drought and low rainfall are threatening the lake again.
This is while the water level of Lake Urmia has decreased by 30 centimeters in the first three months of the current [Iranian calendar] year (March 21-June 21) compared to the same period last year.
Due to the decrease in rainfall over the last two years, this catchment is experiencing a decrease in water level again, Ali Soltanpour, director of the hydrography of the National Cartographic Center said in July.