Iran is in the grip of a seven-year drought that shows no sign of breaking and that, many experts believe, may be the new normal – Earth’s Revenge. Even a return to past rainfall levels might not be enough to head off a nationwide water crisis, since the country has already consumed 70 percent of its groundwater supplies over the past 50 years.
Always arid, Iran is facing desertification as lakes and rivers dry up and once-fertile plains become barren. According to the United Nations, Iran is home to four of the 10 most polluted cities in the world, with dust and desertification among the leading causes.
In Zanjan, northwest of Tehran, the historic Mir Baha-eddin Bridge crosses a riverbed of sand, stones and weeds. In Gomishan, on the shores of the Caspian Sea, the fishermen who once built houses on poles surrounded by freshwater now have to drive for miles to reach the receding shoreline. In Urmia, close to the Turkish border, residents have held protests to demand that the government return water to a once-huge lake that is now the source only of dust storms.
A nationwide network of dams, often heralded by state television as a sign of progress and water management, is adding to water shortages in many places while helping deplete groundwater. In Isfahan, the once-iconic Zayanderud River is now a dusty scar the size of the Seine snaking through the city, because officials were forced to divert its water to the desert city of Yazd.
In Tehran, officials barely managed to keep the water running this summer as reservoirs shrank to dangerously low levels. Subsidies for water and electricity encourage overconsumption in urban areas. Isa Kalantari, a former minister of agriculture, warns that more than half of Iran’s provinces could become uninhabitable within 15 years, displacing millions of people.
As in drought-stricken California, agriculture accounts for about 90 percent of water consumption in Iran. And here, matters are not helped by the prevalence of crude, centuries-old irrigation methods and other wasteful practices.
Where there are no longer rivers and lakes to be tapped, desperate farmers and municipalities are turning to dwindling groundwater supplies. Drillers report that they are increasingly coming up dry, even at depths of more than 600 feet. When they do find water, they say, it is often polluted with heavy metals and arsenic, released as the drill bits break through sediment. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/19/world/middleeast/scarred-riverbeds-and-dead-pistachio-trees-in-a-parched-iran.html?emc=edit_th_20151219&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=63667984&_r=0