You are now holding the Farsi translation of my book, Living with Water Scarcity, which contains — I hope — many ideas that may be useful to you and your communities.
I was born and raised in California, an American state whose weather and water patterns sometimes resemble those of Iran. California’s agricultural industry specializes in fruits, vegetables and nuts (almonds and pistachios).
I didn’t know very much about water management in California before studying for my PhD in Agricultural and Resource Economics (University of California Davis, 2002-2008), but I quickly learned that California has many problems. Farmers use 80 percent of the water but they always want more, so they have dried out rivers and emptied aquifers. In cities, there are problems with breaking pipes and poor water quality because too little money is spent on maintenance. Many cities have too little supply for local demand but price their water so cheaply that people waste it. Some cities are spending billions of dollars on desalination plants to get more supply while farmers flood desert fields with water that costs less than one percent of city prices. Politicians and water managers have talked about solutions for decades, but most of their ideas involve taking more water from ecosystems rather than reducing demand to sustainable levels. Climate change (which I call “climate disruption”) is making everything worse.
I’ve never visited Iran, but I have visited many countries in the region, and I am eager to learn more about your people, your land and your culture.
I am also eager to learn more about water in Iran: where it is, how you use it, and how you will live with water scarcity in the next 100 years.
In preparing this introduction, I did a little reading to learn more about water in your country. I already knew about qanats, but I was surprised to read that some of these systems are still working after 2,500 years. Sadly, I also learned that many qanats have fallen into disuse as communities have lost the traditions of collectively maintaining and repairing damage. One reason this has happened, I read, is that it has been easier and cheaper to pump water directly from the ground — a system that seems better in the short run but takes so much water that some land is forever dead.
I also read that farmers use around 90 percent of Iran’s water, with the rest going to municipal and industrial uses. These basic statistics make me wonder: who gets how much of that water? I suspect that larger industrial farms use more water. That’s what happens in California.
Those human uses add up to 100 percent, which makes me wonder how much water is left for the environment? I read that your Lake Urmia [see cover image above] is dying as its water is taken and its rivers dry out. Did you know that California used to have the largest freshwater lake in the western United States? Farmers dried out Tulare Lake with the help of government subsidies and laws that let them take as much as they wanted. Today, those same farmers are using groundwater so fast that their land is dropping by 10cm per year in some areas.
I read that some Iranians think that new dams and longer canals will bring enough water to allow “business as usual” to continue. In my experience those costly solutions don’t help because they increase water stress and risk for communities losing their water without encouraging sustainable use in the places receiving it.
As an economist, I know that my ideas (raise prices to reduce use, for example) are not very popular because nobody likes paying more for anything, but I am sure that you agree that it’s better to pay more to get a reliable supply instead of paying less to get nothing at all. Price increases, of course, have different impacts on rich and poor, so it’s important to try to protect the poor from those increases, just as it’s important to protect them from shortages.
Climate disruption will complicate all water management as it brings higher temperatures, stronger storms, and longer droughts. I moved to the Netherlands because the Dutch are good at managing their abundant water, but we are now struggling with a drought that is killing crops, drying rivers and increasing costs. Even here, it takes work to manage water for the benefit of all, today and in the future.
The bottom line is that increasing water scarcity means that people need to change their laws, habits and institutions of water management. This book will give you some ideas of how to do that.
I hope you enjoy it, and please do contact me (in English) if you have ideas, news or information that will teach me about your unique country. One day, I will visit.
Khoda hafez [Goodbye :)]
David Zetland Amsterdam (25 July 2018)