Friday, 8 March 2013

NASA's warning about Euphrates-Tigris River Basin

In a paper published in the February edition of the Journal of Water Resources Research a group of researchers from various institutions including the University of California and NASA have delivered their findings on the water situation in the Tigris-Euphrates River basin. The authors used the best available method after ground measurements to obtain their data, which is the GRACE satellite system. The paper can be found here: Journal article and a brief summary by NASA can be found here: NASA article.

The researchers have provided a disturbing figure for the total loss of water from the basin from 2003-2009 with a total fresh water loss of 144km3 (144 billion m3 or 144 trillion litres) with the statistical error of the results being ±2%, but a few points must be taken into consideration with this figure of total water loss:
  •      The researchers were concerned with the water loss in the Tigris-Euphrates river basin not the water loss in a specific country. Therefore the 144km3 of water loss is from an area of 753,960Km2 encompassing the South West of Iran, South East of Turkey, North West Syria and Northern and Central Iraq, and is better represented by the area of black cross hatching in the figure below.

  •      The total water loss is over 7 years from 2003-2009, the water loss can be broken into 3 main parts, 20% was lost by evaporation in the soil, 20% from lakes and reservoirs, 60% loss by the decline in the groundwater where humans have pumped water from the ground (wells, boreholes) for usage.   
The researchers highlight several issues of MAJOR concern to Iraq:
  • When there is a water shortage, the rivers supply less water to Iraq, so that Iraq relies on boreholes which then decreases the groundwater levels (this groundwater can be considered non-renewable).
  • The water loss is accelerating, especially after the 2007.
  • The areas with the greatest water loss and most likely to be affected in the future are the areas downstream i.e. Iraq (including South Iraq).
  • The water loss is exasperated by poor local water management.
  • The water loss is considerably exasperated by a lack of cooperation in water management between the countries concerned.
  • Turkeys construction of dams means that when rainfall is low Turkey limits the water downstream to Iraq so that Turkey can use it, Iraq therefore has even less water supplied by the rivers than if the dams were not present and then relies more on its depleting groundwater. Overall effect is that turkey suffering from a draught is diminished while Iraq’s suffering is increased.
The researchers stress the lack of international cooperation in water management and the likely damage that this will cause to the lives of the people who depend on the waters of the Euphrates and Tigris. The situation is also of concern to nations outside of the region with a roundtable meeting between delegates in the houses of parliament of the UK in December of last year, but so far there has been no significant discussion to a solution between the leaders of the countries concerned over water management. Under the Turkish Southeastern Anatolia Project (Güneydoğu Anadolu Projesi, GAP) project Turkey has built 22 dams across the Euprhates and Tigris for irrigation and hydropower resources, the lake behind the Ataturk Dam alone on the Euphrates is more than 40km in volume.

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