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Russians object to Caspian drink.

Environmentalists in Russia are disturbed by the Islamic Republic's plans to tap the sinking Caspian Sea for water to make Iran's deserts bloom.

Some politicians are also irked that Iran has acted unilaterally without ever discussing its plans with the other states that border the Caspian.

For Russian environmentalists, the Iranian plan recalls what the Soviet Union did by draining water from the rivers feeding Lake Aral to use for irrigation projects. Aral is now a mere shadow of its former self and the immediate region around it is a salt desert. In Iran, Lake Urumiyeh is also rapidly receding as water has been drained from its feed rivers for irrigation. But Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency reports that other Caspian states are not all that agitated by Iran's plans.


ITAR-TASS says Russian experts are almost unanimous in saying the impact of taking considerable amounts of water from the Caspian will require study and that such decisions cannot be made unilaterally by Iran.

President Ahmadi-nejad announced the project last month. The first phase, estimated to cost $1.25 billion, provides for a 150-kilometer-long pipeline from the Caspian near Sari to the city of Semnan and for the creation of a desalination facility with a capacity of 200 million cubic meters of water a year, or 548 million liters a day.

Two later stages are to bring water from the Caspian to other cities. The pipeline will be extended from Semnan to the provinces of Yazd and Kerman. Under the project, the three provinces will be getting 500 million cubic meters of desalinated sea water, for which $10 billion will be required.

The Caspian Sea is a landlocked body of salt water. The Caspian's level tends to fluctuate. Its surface area was reduced 12 percent from 422,000 square kilometers in 1930 to 371,000 square kilometers in 1970. But still it remains the world's largest salt-water lake.

The five littoral sates--Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan--still have unsettled controversies over the legal status of the Caspian Sea. The partners' attitude to Iran's plans are varied, ITAR-TASS reports.

In Russia, many have responded critically. The chief of public relations at the fisheries agency Rosrybolovstvo, Alexander Saveliev, told the news agency the Iranian project "should be closely studied within the framework of the five-party commission for the Caspian."

Pumping hundreds of millions of cubic meters of water from the Caspian would kill this shrinking lake, the director of the Astrakhan State Biosphere Reserve, ecologist Nina Litvinova, told ITAR-TASS.

"The Caspian Sea is getting shallow. Its level declines by 20 centimeters a year. The Volga River is bringing less water into the sea. If water begins to be pumped out in such colossal amounts, this would cause irreparable harm to the entire ecological and biosphere system of the Caspian Sea," she said.

"The fall of the sea level always affects animal and plant life," Litvinova said. "But this is a very complex system. For instance, when the sea gets shallow, the birds benefit from it, but fish die. In any case, the Iranian authorities must coordinate such a large-scale project with all other Caspian states."

Other experts offered different opinions. For instance, the deputy director of the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Arkady Tishkov, believes that "this is quite possible from the ecological standpoint; many others do the same. The Iranians have declared the intention to take 500 million cubic meters of water, which poses no great risks to the sea," he said.

The water resources committee at Kazakhstan's Ministry of Agriculture is concerned, however. "If Iran goes ahead with its intention, naturally, negative effects may ensue--in particular, in the Kazakh part of the Caspian since our off-shore areas are the shallowest, and our scientists believe that the level of water may fall considerably," Muslim Zhiyenbayev told ITAR-TASS.

He also believes that such issues cannot be resolved unilaterally. "In making such decisions, Iran will be obliged to bear in mind the opinion of all countries having access to the Caspian," Zhiyenbayev said.

If fact, the Islamic Republic has often told the four other coastal states that no one may take unilateral action in the Caspian, so the fact that Iran is now taking unilateral rubs many the wrong way.

Some Caspian countries already use seawater after desalination and have done so for quite some time. On the Turkmen coast of the Caspian, there are three desalination plants. The largest of them has a capacity of 35,000 cubic meters a day. This may be the reason Turkmenistan has so far kept silent about the Iranian project.

Kazakhstan has its own desalination facility, too.
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Title Annotation:Economy: Money and its impact
Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:May 4, 2012
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