A highly controversial proposal to transfer water from the Caspian Sea to the parched inland province of Semnan has reportedly been approved by Iran’s parliament, much to the chagrin of environmentalists and coastal residents.
Visiting Semnan in December, President Rouhani, who was born in the province, insisted the problems with the project had been addressed and it would go ahead.
"If there are investors interested in the project, the government is prepared to expedite all necessary licenses,” Rouhani said.
Several MPs from the Mazandaran province on the Caspian Sea in northern Iran have denounced the water transfer project as “unscientific” and “impractical,” with irrevocably damaging consequences for the region's ecology and economy. They have vowed to stop the project.
Accusing Rouhani of setting aside fifty billion rials (roughly $1.2 billion) earmarked for the project for “his fellow Semnanis,” MP from the coastal city of Noshahr, Ahmadi Lashaki, has warned "The nature loving people will not allow the dream of those who are determined to dry out the Caspian Sea to come true."
Meanwhile, local news outlets reported May 3 that the head of the Department of Environment, Isa Kalantari, had dismissed his deputy, Miss Parvin Farshchi, for her opposition the water transfer project.
Speaking to state-run Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) May 4, Kalantari said that he had decided to dismiss Ms. Farshchi months ago, and her dismissal had nothing to do with her opposition to the project.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)-run Tasnim news agency, Miss Farshchi asserted that she was not aware of the reasons behind her dismissal, but, "As an expert, I believe that transferring the Caspian Sea water to Semnan is not a wise decision---based on environmental, economic, and social reasoning, transferring water from one basin to the other is wrong."
Farshchi is not the only expert who is staunchly against the controversial project.
“The detrimental impacts of transferring water from the Caspian Sea to the central province of Semnan can be more catastrophic than a nuclear explosion,” Mohammad Darvish, a faculty member of the Research Institute of Forests and Rangelands told the state-run Mehr News Agency (MNA) January 24.
Transferring water from the Caspian Sea can lead to multi-faceted environmental disasters both for the sea and the regions along the route, Darvish maintained.
He described two possible scenarios for this transfer, both of which would cause serious environmental damage.
If the water desalination is carried out at the source, the Caspian Sea will be more salinized, threatening its ecosystem more than ever, he told MNA, adding, “The pollution level of the sea is currently 40 times above the standard range, and it cannot withstand any further pollution.”
The second scenario is to do the desalination at the destination. This means that salty water is going to flow in pipelines through Hyrcanian forests. “If, due to an earthquake or chemical reactions or any other reason the pipe bursts, a true catastrophe will occur in the forests which can be even more disastrous than a nuclear explosion.”
He further argued that such water transfer programs should be approved by other Caspian Sea coastal cities, adding, “They have a share in the sea water as well.”
Instead of implementing the expensive water transfer project and harming the sea’s environment, water consumption patterns must be managed in different sectors, ISNA also quoted former DoE deputy Abdolreza Karbasi as saying February 24.
"Given that Iran is located in arid and semi-arid areas, and water supply must be provided, in the future, construction of water desalination system might be inevitable,” Karbasi lamented, adding, however, water management systems must first be transformed before this option is considered.
The plan to transfer water through a 200-kilometer pipeline from the Caspian Sea, Mazandaran Province to Semnan Province has been promoted as a solution to help meet growing demand in the agricultural, industrial, and household consumption sectors of the water-stressed region.
Iran is experiencing an unprecedented drought that has pitted regions against each other as they compete for scarce water supplies.