Lake Urmia – a.k.a Lake Orumiyeh – in northwest Iran, was once one of largest lakes in the world. In the last 40 years the lake’s size has shrunk by over 90%.
And it’s all due to human interference.
The reduction in lake size can be attributed to upstream water diversion for dams and irrigation systems.
A similar fate to that of the much-diminished Aral Sea.
The drop in water level has led to a massive spike in salinity. Salt particles now cover large parts of the old lake bed.
During high winds the salt particles blow inland, contaminating soils and reducing the productivity of farmland.
The water that remains is too salty to support fish life, although there are a few crustacean species that thrive in it.
Lake Urmia Bridge
Construction of Lake Urmia Bridge and the causeway that goes along with it has effectively cut the lake in two.
While the bridge is a significant convenience for those travelling between the cities of Urmia and Tabriz, it has significantly restricted water movement within the lake and contributed to the lake’s overall degradation.
UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
Despite the loss in lake size, the waterbody remains an important migratory bird habitat.
It’s both a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a RAMSAR wetland.
However, the numbers of waterfowl that visit the lake are plummeting as lake health drops.
It is feared that without drastic corrective measures Lake Urmia will dry up completely.
Several agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), are helping Iran to rehabilitate the lake.
The salt pans of Lake Urmia are spectacular to look at, but overall I think I’d rather the lake was fit and healthy.
Hopefully those looking after the lake will manage to turn things around and in the not too distant future it will once again support a thriving ecosystem.
Practical information and how to reach Lake Urmia:
Lake Urmia is approximately 100km from Tabriz (1.5 – 2 hour drive). The best way to get there is by taxi or private car. A trip to the lake can be combined with a visit to Kandovan to make a full day excursion. More transport info here.