Jalal Attari, Timothy Bradley, Peyman Daneshkar Arasteh, Ghislain de Marsily, Karl Flessa, S. Majid Hassanizadeh, David Laylin, Kaveh Madani Larijani, Philip Micklin, Marianne Milano, Saeed Morid, Yves Quéré, Abdolrahim Salavitabar, Glenn Schweitzer, Soroosh Sorooshian, Aaron T. Wolf, Farhad Yazdandoost
U.S., Iranian and European
Experiences in Assessing and Managing Water Resources
Les Treilles from March 4 to March 8, 2013
Du 5 au 9 mars 2013 s’est tenue, sur le thème de “L’eau en pays aride”, la quatrième rencontre entre scientifiques américains et iraniens.
En 2004, sur le constat qu’elles étaient impossibles, pour raisons politiques, aussi bien aux États-Unis qu’en Iran, Yves Quéré -alors responsable des relations internationales de l’Académie française des sciences- avait initié aux Treilles ces rencontres de “diplomatie par la science”.
Le 8 mars 2013, en témoignage de sa reconnaissance, l’Académie américaine des sciences représentée par Glenn Schweitzer, un de ses membres éminents, a remis à la Fondation des Treilles, une plaque commémorant ces réunions.
Seventeen specialists from the United States, Iran, France, and the Netherlands participated in the workshop. All participants were affiliated with academic or research institutions in their home countries. The Fondation des Treilles provided essential support prior to and during the workshop.
This was the fourth workshop at Les Treilles during the past twelve years that addressed topics of mutual interest to Iranian and western scientists. The U.S. National Academies, in cooperation with the French Academy of Sciences and with various academic institutions in Iran, organized the four workshops. The topics of the workshops have varied, depending on the timeliness of different topics and the scientific interests of the academies, as well as the interests of the partner institutions in Iran.
The principal purpose of this workshop was to exchange information about water-related issues of global interest. Most important, it was the first step in a planned program of scientific engagement between western and Iranian colleagues that will focus on location-specific water-related problems in Iran, which can be effectively addressed through international collaboration. Of course international groups of experts can only suggest research priorities, methods for assessing the quantity and quality of water resources, regulatory actions, and approaches for sharing of water resources. To transform such suggestions into policies, priorities, or programs requires commitments by governments of the territories where the water resources are located; and the governments must take into account views of a variety of stakeholders.
At the same time, the workshop helped maintain communication networks that connect specialists in Iran with colleagues in the west. Unfortunately, these networks are increasingly interrupted for political reasons. The Iranian participants in the workshop were among the most accomplished scientists in their country in the field of water resource management, and their many contributions reflected the extensive experience of Iran in coping with complex water issues under difficult arid conditions.
An important focal point for much of the workshop was the current international understanding of the conditions of several salt-laden lakes in Iran, the United States, and Central Asia. In each case the lakes have been subjected to contractions in size in recent years. This shrinkage has led to adverse ecological impacts in the surrounding territories and also, in some cases, has affected the health of residents living near the lakes. In all cases, the competing claims of residents near the lakes or in areas that depend on water outflows from the lakes have been significant factors in determining how limited water resources can best serve regional and national interests. A theme of the workshop was that such decisions should be based on sound scientific data concerning both demand for and supply of water resources that are being overtaxed.
Of special concern in this regard is the rapid deterioration of the conditions of Lake Urmia in northwestern Iran. There, evaporation is resulting in salt particles becoming embedded in particulate matter that is then transported through the atmosphere for many miles before settling on distant areas, often with adverse impacts on agricultural land and, at times, reaching sensitive populations. Since the lake is close to the border between Iran and Azerbaijan, the deteriorating conditions within the basin surrounding the lake are not only of local and national interest, but they have serious international dimensions as well.
The participants discussed approaches carried out in recent decades to control evaporation of other salty lakes as well. Three case histories of efforts to restore and to sustain lakes were of special interest, particularly since several of the world’s leading experts on conditions in these lakes were present at Les Treilles. These experts addressed the conditions of the Aral Sea, the Salton Sea, and Mono Lake.
The approaches used in Central Asia and the United States to limit the shrinkage of the lakes were of considerable interest, and some of the lessons learned may be relevant to conditions encountered in Iran as well. At the same time, each lake has unique characteristics both in terms of its ecological setting and of the interests of nearby populations. Also, the political and cost factors influencing decisions concerning the future of shrinking lakes are quite unique for each lake of interest.
Other agenda items included transboundary aspects of the Colorado River delta, water scarcity in North Africa, climatic and anthropogenic changes over the Mediterranean Basin, and the filtering effect of soil to prevent groundwater transmittal of viruses. The importance of introducing important water concepts into the educational programs of young children quickly captured the attention of the participants. A final presentation addressed water diplomacy and the importance of documenting both successful and problem-laden efforts to resolve cross-border water disputes over many decades.
Following the scientific presentations, the Iranian participants offered to organize a follow-on meeting in their country in 2014. Lake Urmia would continue to be a focal point although other wetland areas are also of interest.
The participants decided that two types of activities deserved special attention. First, modest pilot projects that could be implemented to improve conditions at Lake Urmia were proposed. Second, the importance of considering rivers that cross international borders was highlighted, and in particular the Helmand River with Afghan colleagues participating in discussions. Also, mentioned were water issues involving Tajikistan.
In conclusion, the participants decided to prepare extended abstracts of their presentations. They will be included in the compilation of documents that is prepared to reflect the activities of the workshop.