Urmia Lake is the largest inland saline lake in Iran and is one of the most valuable aquatic ecosystems in the country. The lake has faced extreme water loss in recent years due to overuse and mismanagement. Over the last thirty years the lake basin population has been tripled and agricultural area fed by the lake basin water resources has quadrupled. Current water levels are more than four meters below the critical level needed to sustain ecosystems. A range ofusers continue to extract water from the basin that feeds the lake. Inflows to the lake have decreased drastically and the situation has been exacerbated by an ongoing drought, resulting in water levels declining at an alarming rate.
Several local and national organizations including multiple government and non-governmental groups are working to restore the lake. However, there appears to be no consensus among the stakeholders on what sustainable interventions are appropriate. Like many other complex development problems, the problem of allocating water to address multiple competing and often conflicting goals for the Urmia Lake Basin will not yield a simple solution. An effective resolution of water crisis for the Lake calls for a major reframing of water allocation and reshaping of existing institutions.
The root cause of many complex water problems lies at the intersection of multiple causal forces buried in observational signatures with often conflicting views and values related to: Who decides, who gets water and how? In such situations, neither numbers nor narratives will resolve the dilemma.One way to address these types of complex water allocation problems is to reframe them as joint decision-making problems - from identifying and defining the problem to innovating and implementing mutual gains options for resolutions that can generate politically legitimate policies and projects based on science with active participation of all involved parties.The Water Diplomacy Framework (WDF) is emerging as an alternative to traditional techno- or values-focused approach to water management. The WDF diagnoses water problems, identifies intervention points, and proposes sustainable resolutions that are sensitive to diverse viewpoints and uncertainty as well as changing and competing demands. With this spirit and focus, Tufts University Water Diplomacy Program is hosting a two-day workshop - with several invited Iranian and international experts and in partnership with MIT (including MIT Iranian Studies Group) – to provide a forum with the following questions as a starting point for an engaged conversation:
- What is the current framing? Is this framing working? If not, what reframing is needed?
- What metrics (numbers, narratives, or both) are used to measure success?
- What are the “bottlenecks” in water allocation for the Urmia Lake Basin?
- How to reallocate water to meet competing and conflicting needs and demands of multiple sectors?
Understanding and managing water challenges in the Urmia Lake need to be reframed within a network of variables, process, actors, and institutions. Characterizing this network and identifying key links and nodes is an essential step to identifying possible strategies for pragmatic and actionable interventions. Mismatches between values (who decides, who gets water? Is water a right or property?), choice of tools (is efficient irrigation technology better than changing crop pattern to conserve water?), and disparity in scales (spatial, temporal, jurisdiction, management, knowledge) will be discussed with a focus to find actionable resolution. More information about the workshop is here:http://environment.tufts.edu/blog/2015/05/11/urmialake/