Cablegate: Reduced Turkish and Iranian Water Flows to Iraq's Tigris

DE RUEHGB #2899/01 3021506
R 291506Z OCT 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

SUBJECT: Reduced Turkish and Iranian Water Flows to Iraq's Tigris
and Shatt Al Arab Rivers

REF: Baghdad 2469

Sensitive but Unclassified. Please protect accordingly.
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Daily water flows into three major Iraqi dams
(the Mosul, Dokan, and Derbendikahn) indicate significant reductions
in waters crossing into Iraq from both Turkey and Iran. Iranian
river blockages and diversions contribute to low Tigris River and
Shatt Al Arab water flows in Iraq. Low flow conditions in the
Tigris and Shatt Al Arab have led to significant backflow of highly
saline water from the Arabian Gulf. This backflow has rendered some
water treatment plants ineffective, shut down a petrochemical
facility and lowered production rates at a refinery, and reduced the
quantity and quality of water available for irrigation. Blockage of
the Karkh River by Iran appears to have devastated the Iraqi side of
the Al Huwaza Marsh, whose waters normally flow into the Tigris. END
Tigris River Contributors and Recent Reductions in Flow
2. (SBU) Total river water flow into Iraq has been estimated by
various sources at between 65 billion cubic meters (BCM) in dry
years to over 85 BCM in wet years. The Tigris River and its
tributaries contribute about 60 percent of this total flow (about 50
BCM). Approximately 50 percent of the Tigris River waters enter
Iraq from Turkey. Iranian rivers have historically contributed
approximately 30 percent of the Tigris river flow. (The remaining
waters arise out of the mountains in Kurdistan within Iraq.) While
over 40 tributaries originate in the western mountains of Iran
before crossing the border to join with the Tigris and the Shatt Al
Arab Rivers, there are only four major Iranian tributaries: the
Lower Zab River (6.7 BCM) and the Diyala River (5.1 BCM) located in
the northeastern corner of Iraq, and the Karkh River (6.4 BCM) and
the Karun River (14.4 BCM) located near Basra. The rainfall
catchment basins for these four tributaries stretch across both
Iraqi and Iranian territory, but the bulk of the river water results
from the melting snowcaps of the Zagros mountain range in
northwestern Iran. A fifth large tributary to the Tigris River, the
Upper Zab River (13.3 BCM), arises out of the mountains of Kurdistan
and eastern Turkey.
3. (SBU) In the last two years, flows from the major Iranian
tributaries to the Tigris and Shatt Al Arab have dramatically
decreased. Evidence of the flow decrease in the Lower Zab and
Diyala Rivers is shown in daily water data for the Dokan Dam on the
Lower Zab River and the Derbendikahn Dam on the Diyala River near
the Iranian border. The average inflow rates from Iran into these
dams during July-September 2009 have decreased 62 percent and 66
percent, respectively, compared to July-September 2005, and 52
percent and 64 percent, respectively, compared to July-September
2007. (Insufficient data exists to calculate average flow rates in
2006 and 2008). The limited available data indicates that the
decreasing inflow rate may have begun in 2008.
4. (SBU) Iran appears to have reduced the Karkh and Karun River
flows into Iraq by constructing a sand berm (Karkh River) and canals
(Karun River) that divert large amounts of water away from the Iraqi
border. Recent visual observation and unclassified photographs of a
sand berm along the Iran-Iraq border indicate that the Karkh River
(6.3 BCM) has been blocked, resulting in water pooling on the
Iranian side of the border and dry land on the Iraqi side of the
border. Unclassified aerial photographs show Iranian diversion
Qborder. Unclassified aerial photographs show Iranian diversion
canals that are drawing water from the Karun River inside Iran.
This water then appears to be directed to a canal that flows just to
the east of the Iraq-Iran border and south into the Arabian Gulf.
5. (SBU) As measured at Iraq's Mosul Dam, Tigris River average
inflows from Turkey have decreased significantly since 2005. In
2005 and 2007, the average water inflow rates of the Tigris into
Iraq during July-September were 219 cm/s and 204 cm/s, respectively.
In 2009, the average water inflow rate of the Tigris during
July-September had decreased to 153 cm/s. (Insufficient data exists
to calculate average flow rates in 2006 and 2008.) The limited
available data indicates that the decreasing inflow from Turkey may
have begun in 2008.
Water Blockages and Diversions Have Significant Downstream Impact
6. (SBU) The decreasing water inflows from Iran and Turkey and a
regional drought have caused severe impacts from Kirkuk in the north
to Basra in the south. In recent years, the Derbendikahn Dam, fed
by the Diyala River, has seen dramatic drops in water level.
Another dam (Dokan Dam) is fed by the Lower Zab River, which is a
major source of water for the city of Kirkuk. The Dokan Dam's water
level over the last two years is lower than it has been in the
previous four years. According to the Foreign Agricultural Service
(FAS), careful management of the remaining water in the dam as well
as in other parts of Iraq is necessary to ensure adequate soil
moisture and surface water availability going into the sowing season
for wheat and barley.
7. (SBU) In Basra province, low river water flows from Karkh River
blockages and Karun River diversions have allowed the Arabian Gulf
to intrude up to 60 kilometers north of the mouth of the Shatt Al
Arab. This highly saline water pollutes water treatment plant
intakes and irrigation canals and has interfered with at least one

BAGHDAD 00002899 002 OF 002

petrochemical plant. Karkh River blockage has also had a
devastating effect on the Iraqi side of the Al Huwaza Marsh. Flow
that used to exit the Al Huwaza Marsh from the south side and join
the Tigris River is nonexistent, and only patches of small stagnant
pools of water can be seen from the air. An area of the Al Huwaza
that was described as "Nice Marsh" by USG personnel during aerial
reconnaissance last year is today dry land with no water and no
8. (SBU) According to the Minister of Water Resources, salinity
concentrations in the town of Sibah, located 40 km south of Basra
near the mouth of the Karun River, have reached 9 parts per
thousand. That contrasts to the World Health Organization standard
of no more than 1 part per thousand. For agricultural uses, the
standard is no more than 2 parts per thousand. Amer Salman, head of
Basra Agriculture Directorate stated in September that "The salinity
level has made it impossible to use the water for drinking and
irrigation, animals and agriculture. This is a real and serious
catastrophe and it will probably affect the down-town area of Basra
soon." A Ministry of Water Resources October 2 statement said, "The
province of Basra suffers from scarcity of fresh water after the
majority of desalination plants stopped due to the high percentage
of salt in the water." Recent news reports from Basra indicate that
the Petrochemical Plants Compound shut down for several weeks due to
high salinity in the Shatt Al Arab. In addition, according to oil
refinery officials in Baghdad, the Basra refinery is experiencing
reduced production rates due to salt water in its intakes.
Efforts to Mitigate Negative Impact
9. (SBU) Humanitarian efforts are ongoing in Basra Province to
counteract the effects of diminished and ineffective water treatment
capabilities due to the high salinity concentrations.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are contributing water storage
tanks in Al Fao and Sibah, and UNICEF and the U.S. military are
providing 150,000 and 600,000 liters per day of potable water to the
region, respectively. (Comment: The U.S. military contract for the
provision of water is scheduled to end on January 1. End Comment)
The U.S. military is also refurbishing water treatment plants and
supply lines in the area to facilitate increased flow from water
sources other than the highly saline Shatt Al Arab.
10. (SBU) The Government of Iraq (GOI) has announced medium- and
long-term steps to improve water treatment and supply in Basra
province. The GOI has approved funding of a $20 million pipeline to
transport lower salinity waters from the north of Basra to the
southern towns perched along the banks of the Shatt Al Arab. The
government has purchased eight desalination units to be installed in
Al Fao and Sibah and has preliminarily approved funding for the
construction of a dam system on the Shatt al Arab that would
eventually impede the backflow of salt waters from the Arabian Gulf.
In addition, according to the Deputy Minister of Municipalities and
Public Works, the GOI has published a tender to obtain 325 low
capacity (1-5 cm/hr) solar powered desalination units to be
distributed to smaller villages in the most affected areas.
11. (SBU) Long-term water planning is also being addressed by the
GOI. Three firms, British, Italian, and Russian, responded to a
tender to develop a 30-year strategic water plan for the country.
This plan will provide a realistic estimate of present and future
QThis plan will provide a realistic estimate of present and future
agricultural, industrial, and potable water requirements and
expected water availability for the country. As discussed reftel,
available water resources must be managed properly in order to
maximize beneficial usage of this resource.
Comment: Water Realities
12. (SBU) Iraq is in a tenuous position with regards to water. Iraq
is surrounded by traditionally dry countries that appear ready to
fully utilize the water that travels through their territory. Since
Iraq is a downstream riparian state, it must develop an overall
water strategy that includes a strong water rights negotiating
position, an achievable water management plan, and water treatment
facilities that have the ability to desalinate brackish and sea

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