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Tehran's Growing Water Crisis

Water and Environment; Scientific, Technical, Social & Cultural (Monthly)
Dec. 1999, No. 36
By: Neshat Mojjed, Abbas Haaj Hariri

Summary: The water crisis, arising from the poor downfalls during the winter of 1998 and spring of 1999, is one of the worst the capital has experienced over the past century. Currently about 40 percent of the Tehran's consumption of water is provided through 261 deep wells and the remaining 60 percent through three big dams of Karaj, Latian and Lar.

Text: Uncontrolled immigration to the capital city of Tehran along with its rapid population growth over the recent decades have caused water consumption in the metropolitan area to exceed water resources available. This city is therefore facing serious water shortage which has turned into a crisis.

Thirty years ago the city's available water resources were double the consumption. But, starting 1992, uncontrolled population growth and increase in water consumption have worked to diminish the water resources dramatically. consequently, adequate water supply needed to meet the demand began to disappear in the hot seasons.

In view of the fact that the construction of the new installations for collecting the surface water is time-consuming and costly, the officials decided in the late past decade to extract the potable water from the underground water reserves.

This policy has continued to this day for this year 360 million cu.m of water are expected to be extracted from the underground water reserves in the region to supply the drinking water for the residents of Tehran.

Though the Tehran Regional Water Organization confirmed the said figure, the studies carried out show that the additional water usage by other organizations including the Tehran Municipality, which is exploiting many deep wells, increase the annual consumption by 725 cu.m. This high consumption would result in a marked decrease in the subterranean water resources and the poor quality of the water designed for drink as observed in recent years. Other plans set forth by the Tehran Regional Water Organization rely on the utilization of the water reserves as follows:

Hence, an additional 310 million cu.m waters would be extracted annually from the underground water resources. Therefore, the amount of water to be extracted from Tehran water reserves would exceed one billion cu.m should new dams are not constructed in Tehran.

The water crisis, arising from the poor downfalls during the winter of 1998 and spring of 1999, is one of the worst the capital has experienced over the past century. The Water Organization of the Tehran Province was faced with difficulties in providing water for the public during the hot summer and autumn since the reservoirs were half-empty. The organization tried to address the shortcomings through digging out a series of deep wells to counter the crisis.

Currently about 40 percent of the Tehran's consumption of water is provided through 261 deep wells and the remaining 60 percent through three big dams of Karaj, Latian and Lar.

Concerned about the consequences of the drought, Tehran's Water Organization declared that early this year some 570 million cu.m of water from the three said dams had been consumed while another 500 million cu.m should be extracted during the rainless spring. The organization called on the Tehranis to economize 10 percent on water consumption to counter the crisis.

Furthermore, the organization adopted a series of measures during the first half of the year. They are as follows:

Should the water supply from the dams end, supplying water for the inhabitants of the northern Tehran would face a serious problem.

Given the tense water crisis this year and taking into account the ongoing global climatic changes, it is urgent to construct advanced systems to collect and exploit the surface water resources in the capital. Similarly, as indicated before, effective measures should be taken up to prevent uncontrolled immigration to Tehran and rapid population growth. Needless to say, dealing with these issues would help resolve other problems regarding the water and sewage systems and environmental drawbacks.

When in spite of massive expenses involved, large-scale water supply projects have been implemented to alleviate the problem in the much smaller cities such as Tabriz and Yazd, it would be clearly incomprehensible not to take proper steps, regardless of what they may be or how expensive they are, to adequately satisfy the capital's water demand.