The long popular lake, home to migrating flamingos, pelicans and gulls, has shrunken by 60 percent and could disappear entirely in just a few years, experts say — drained by drought, misguided irrigation policies, development and the damming of rivers that feed it.
In April, authorities stopped activities at the nearby jetty in Golmankhaneh harbor, due to lack of water in the lake, now only two meters deep at its deepest. Jetties in Sharafkhaneh and Eslami harbors faced the same fate. The receding water has also weakened hotel business and tourism activities in the area, and planned hotel projects remain idle since investors are reluctant to continue.
Beyond tourism, the salt-saturated lake threatens agriculture nearby in northwest Iran, as storms sometimes carry the salt far afield. Many farmers worry about the future of their lands, which for centuries have been famous for apples, grapes, walnuts, almonds, onions, potatoes, as well as aromatic herbal drinks, candies and tasty sweet pastes.
"The salty winds not only will affect surrounding areas but also can damage farming in remote areas," said Masoud Mohammadian, an agriculture official in the eastern part of the lake, some 370 miles (600 kilometers) northwest of the capital Tehran.
Other officials echoed the dire forecast. Salman Zaker, a parliament member for Oroumieh warned last month that, "with the current trend, the risk of a salt tsunami is increasing." Warning that the lake would dry out within three to five years — an assessment agreed to by the local environment department director, Hasan Abbasnejad — Zaker said eight to 10 billion tons of salt would jeopardize life for millions of people.
How did this disaster develop, and what can be done now?
Official reports blame the drying mainly on a decade-long drought, and peripherally on consumption of water of the feeding rivers for farming. They put 5 percent of the blame on construction of dams and 3 percent on other factors. Others disagree about the relative blame.
The first alarm over the lake's shrinking came in late 1990s amid a nagging drought. Nonetheless, the government continued construction of 35 dams on the rivers which feed the lake; 10 more dams are on the drawing boards for the next few years.
Also completed was a lake-crossing roadway between Oroumieh and Tabriz, cities on the west and east of the lake. No environmental feasibility study was done in the planning for the road, and environmentalists believe the project worsened the lake's health by acting as a barrier to water circulation.
In the early 2000s, academic research concluded that the lake could face the same destiny as the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which has been steadily shrinking since rivers that feed it were diverted by Soviet Union irrigation projects in 1960s. It is now less than one-tenth of its original size.
In April, the Iranian government announced a three-prong effort to save the lake: a cloud-seeding program to increase rainfall in the area, a lowering of water consumption by irrigation systems, and supplying the lake with remote sources of water.
Some experts termed the weather control portion of the program as only a "symbolic action" by government, saying the best answer would be to release more water currently being held back by dams. The evaporation rate has been three times the rainfall rate, making the rivers' historic role vital to sustaining the lake.
Three-fifths of the lake has dried up and salt saturation has reached some 350 milligrams per liter from 80 milligrams in 1970s. The government should allow 20 percent of the water from the dams to reach the lake.
Mostafa Ghanbari, secretary of the Society for Savior of the Lake Oroumieh, believes transferring water from the Caspian Sea may be "the only way to save" the lake. But such a project would be ambitious, requiring the pumping of water some 430 miles (700 kilometers), from a body of water at considerably lower elevation.
In the green and beautiful city of Oroumieh, famous for peaceful coexistence between Azeri people, Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians as well as Muslims and Christians, talk about the fate of the lake is common among ordinary people in teahouses and on the streets. Many express happiness with the government decision to manipulate clouds in hopes of increasing rainfall.
Beyond the debates by national and local authorities some folks here suggest another way Oroumieh could be saved.
A local legend says wild purple gladiolas have had a miraculous role in doing just that. The flowers have grown every year for a thousand years in the spot where a princess of Oroumieh was killed as she warned the people of the city about an invading enemy. (Yahoo)
Lake Urmia situated between East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan provinces in Iran. It is the largest lake in the Middle East and THE SECOND LARGEST salt water lake in the world. Registered as Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO and listed as a wetland of international importance under the 1971 Ramsar Convention, the Urmia Lake holds one of the world’s richest bio-diversity. More than 210 species of birds such as flamingos, pelicans, spoonbills, and gulls, as well as many species of reptiles, amphibians, mammals such as yellow deer inhabit the lake and surrounding.
During the last decade, however, Lake Urmia has shrunk significantly and its depth has fallen by almost 7 meters. Experts believe that the drought that began in 1999, surface flow diversions, groundwater extraction, and the lack of efficient water management are the main reasons. Lake Urmia holds 8 billion cubic metric tons of salt. According to experts, if the lake completely dries up, a vast amount of salt will be released into the region resulting in an ecological, agricultural, and social catastrophe not only in Azerbaijani cities of Iran but also, in neighboring countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. It will force many people to abandon their villages and towns around the lake and a vast majority of the flora and fauna will be lost permanently.
We as a group of students and environment supporters have gathered here, in Vancouver, to hold this campaign and demand the international organizations such as United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to fulfill their commitments to preserve Lake Urmia and to support Iranian government to take immediate actions. In cooperation with scientists, the international organizations, and environmental groups the Iranian government must expedite the comprehensive national action plan on preserving the lake. The action plan should be implemented immediately to be effective in protecting the Lake’s flora and fauna. We also ask local people to save water any way possible. We urge environmental groups and media to help us to raise the awareness of the issue and mount an international cooperation with people responsible for this disaster.
THIS ENVIRONMENTAL CATASTROPHE MUST BE STOPPED BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE
Lake Orumieh is one of the largest and permanent lakes of Iran and has characteristics of its own. This lake is located to the northwest of the province and stretches from north to south, thereby dividing this territory into two that is East Azarbayjan and West Azarbayjan. It is one of the most magnificent lakes of the world. It is saturated with salt which is said to help in treatment of some kinds of remedies. Regarding the size, depth, chemical composition, sedimentation, ecology, water currents and wild species, this lake bears special characteristics. Such that it has been recorded as a National Park by the Department of the Environment as well as internationally as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
A number of ports have been set up along the coasts of the Lake Orumieh in order to transport passengers and cargo. The most important of these is the port of Sharaf Khaneh. The said is on the eastern coast of the lake within the limits of Shabestar. It has full port facilities including large warehouses. In the summer months the place swarms with visitors who come for leisure and therapeutic purposes, both by mineral springs and the "sludge" present in the region. The port of Aq Gonbad ia also another important port. The others namely, Rahmanloo, Danaloo, Qobadloo and Zeenatloo ports are on the eastern coast of the lake.
The Orumieh lake has about 102 islands both large and small. Five of these islands can be noted here such as the Islands of Islami (Shahi), Kaboodan, (Qoyoon Daqi), Ashk Daqi, Espir and Arezoo. The said come under the political and commercial sectors of the province.
As it was mentioned the three Islands of Ashk Daqi, Espeer and Arezoo of Lake Orumieh are also in the vicinity of the province of East Azarbayjan. (ITTO)
With an area of 43,660 square kilometers, including Lake Urmia,the province of West Azarbayjan is located on the north-west of Iran.
The climate of the province is largely influenced by the rainy winds of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean. Cold northern winds affect the province during winter and cause heavy snow.
According to existing meteorological data, local temperatures vary within the province. Average temperature differs from 9.4 °C in Piranshahr to 11.6 °C in Mahabad, while it is 9.8 °C in Urmia, 10.8 °C in Khoy, 9.4 °C in Piranshahr, and in Mahabad 11.6 °C. According to same data, the highest temperature in the province reaches 34 °C in July, and the lowest temperature is –16 °C in January. Maximum change of temperature in summer is 4 °C, and in winter 15 °C.
West- Azarbayjan province, encompassing vast and fertile plains, high mountains, enjoying moderate and healthy weather, rivers with high volume of water, vineyards, orchards, luxuriant forest and rangelands, mountain outskirt with wonderful flora, magnificent wildlife and beautiful shores around the lake with different recreational facilities, which all together form one of the most beautiful and spectacular region in Iran. A land with wonderful flora during the spring and the summer covered with tulip, poppy, narcissus and hyacinth extending from Arass rivers banks in the north to Zab Kouchak valley in the south.
The Orumieh Lake, which lies in the northwestern Iran, is home to some 212 species of birds, 41 reptiles, 7 amphibians, and 27 species of mammals, including the Iranian yellow deer.
The construction of a dam on part of the lake and the recent draught has significantly decreased the annual amount of water Orumieh receives. This in turn has increased the salinity of Orumiyeh's water, causing the lake to lose its significance as home to thousands of migratory birds, such as flamingoes.
The lake is marked by more than a hundred small rocky islands, which are stopover points in the migrations of various kinds of wild bird life (including flamingos, pelicans, spoonbills, ibises, storks, shelducks, avocets, stilts, and gulls).
By virtue of its high levels of salinity, the lake does not sustain any fish species. Nonetheless, Lake Urmia is considered to be one of the largest natural habitats of Artemia, which serve as food source for the migratory birds such flamingos. Most of the area of the lake is considered a national park.
The lake is a major barrier between two of the most important cities in West Azerbaijan and East Azerbaijan provinces, Urmia and Tabriz. A project to build a highway across the lake was initiated in the 1970s but was abandoned after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, having finished a 15 km causeway with an unbridged gap. The project was revived in the early 2000s, and was completed in November 2008 with the opening of a 1.5 km bridge across the remaining gap. However, the high saline environment is already heavily rusting the steel on the bridge despite anti-corrosion treatment. Experts have warned that the construction of the bridge, together with a series of ecological factors, will eventually lead to the drying up of the lake, turning it into a salt marsh which will directly affect the climate of the region.
Lake Urmia has been shrinking for a long time, with an annual evaporation rate of 0.6m to 1m (24 to 39 inches). The lake's salts are considered to have medical effects, especially as a cure for rheumatism. (AbsoluteAstronomy)
Lake Urmia is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a Ramsar site.