Iran's Largest Lake Turning to Salt

Oroumieh Lake shrunk by 60% thanks to drought, over-damming of rivers
By Sarah Whitmire,  Newser Staff
Posted May 25, 2011 10:09 AM CDT
A dead bird lies on the solidified salts of the Oroumieh Lake, on its shore, some 370 miles (600 kilometers) northwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Saturday, April 30, 2011.   (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
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(Newser) – It's the third largest saltwater lake on Earth—or was. Iran's Oroumieh Lake, home to migrating flamingos, pelicans, and gulls, has shrunk by 60% and could disappear entirely in just a few years, thanks to persistent drought, misguided irrigation policies, and the damming of rivers that feed it. The AP talks to a local who used to give boat tours for tourists—until he started to have to stop the boat every 10 minutes to unfoul the propeller, and ultimately gave up. "The visitors were not enjoying such a boring trip," he said, noting they had to cross hundreds of meters of salty lakebed just to reach the boat from the wharf.

Beyond tourism, the salt-saturated lake threatens nearby agriculture, as storms sometimes carry the salt far afield. Experts worry about a "salt tsunami": the effect of as many as 10 billion tons of dry salt blowing in the desert winds. The AP notes that Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan has been steadily shrinking since rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet Union irrigation projects in 1960s; it's a good but unfortunate indicator of what is to come for Iran. The Aral is now less than one-tenth of its original size.

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