Lake Urmia in grave peril
Lake Urmia in grave peril
Lake Urmia started to dry up in the 2000s, and although it revived at some point over the past few years, it is in serious danger these days.

TEHRAN (Iran News) – Lake Urmia started to dry up in the 2000s, and although it revived at some point over the past few years, it is in serious danger these days.

Lake Urmia, located in northwest Iran, is the largest lake in the Middle East and the sixth-largest Salt Lake in the world with a water surface area of 5,000 to 6,000 km2. The lake is designated for the List of Wetlands of International Importance, Ramsar Site, as well as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, which is a protected area with the aim of conserving nature and culture in the region and community development.

However, the water in the lake has been decreasing during the past years. The water surface area shrank by approximately 80 percent of its (once-large) original size at the end of the dry season in 2013 and by approximately 70 percent at the end of the rainy season of the same year.

Restoration measures caused the level of Lake Urmia to reach 1278 meters in 1995 and 1274 meters in 2005 and finally, it stood at 1270 meters in 2015.

After 7 years and spending about $4 billion, the condition of Lake Urmia was returned to its first point, Somayeh Rafiei, member of the Majlis (Iranian Parliament) said.

Based on the studies and according to the statement of the Lake Urmia Restoration Program, 18 percent of the drying was due to climate change and 82 percent was due to the mismanagement of water resources in the catchment area, she lamented.

The water level of Lake Urmia was supposed to reach 1274.1 by 2028. Currently, the last level of the Lake on July 10th was estimated at 1270.57, which means that it is only 53 cm higher than the minimum level of November 2015, she explained.

According to experts’ forecasts, evaporation will continue in Lake Urmia until the end of September, and the water level will reach the level of the first day of the Lake Urmia restoration project, and the south of the lake will be completely dry, she lamented.

Human factors’ share of 69% 

Paleontological studies conducted by two Iranian researchers at the University of Miami on Lake Urmia show that even when the rainfall was 180 mm, the lake did not dry up, and this shows that the lake’s condition in recent years has been affected by human factors.

Researchers realized that the situation of Lake Urmia in the last 20 years is not fully related to lack of rainfall, which shows that the share of human factors has been higher.

The share of natural factors in the drying of Lake Urmia is 31 percent, which includes an 18 percent decrease in rainfall and a 1.5-degree increase in temperature in the last two decades compared to the long term, and the share of human factors is 69 percent, which includes agricultural development and construction of dams and extraction from groundwater sources.

The amount of water consumption in the Urmia catchment area for the agricultural sector is 4699 million cubic meters and the consumption for drinking, health, and industry is 588 million cubic meters.

Threats to the shrinking lake

The phenomenon of the dramatically shrinking lake has diminished tourism, water transportation, and fisheries industries, and destroyed a wide range of wildlife habitats in the region.

According to the Department of Environment (DOE) in West Azerbaijan Province, salty dust that is blown from the dried lake bed in wind or “Salt Storm” negatively affect agricultural crops and is menacing to human health in adjacent areas, and some village in East Azerbaijan Province has already been abandoned by its people due to salinization of groundwater.

Expansion of farmlands, population growth, dam construction, and extraction of groundwater through tens of thousands of illegal wells are among the main anthropogenic causes. Importantly, it has been said that irrigation water accounts for approximately 90 percent of all extracted water from the Lake Urmia Basin.

  • source : Tehrantimes