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Researchers From USU, Iran Collaborate On Lake Restoration Project

Researchers from Utah State University and Iran are collaborating to help restore one of the world's largest saline lakes- Lake Urmia. 

Somayeh Sima is an assistant professor at Tarbiat Modares University in Iran and said Lake Urmia has lost around 90% of its volume in the last two decades. 

“That has led to significant environmental consequences like docile storms, increasing the lake saline salinity that would harm artemia brine shrimp and flamingos,” Sima said. 

Along with the environmental impacts, the considerable water loss affects the people living around the lake. 

“Recreational boats cannot reach a boatable depths of the lake, several resorts that are located around the lake has been totally shut down,” Sima said. 

Dr. David Rosenberg is a civil and environmental engineer at Utah State University. He said the similarities between Lake Urmia and The Great Salt Lake are why researchers at USU are interested in the project.  

“We have arid desert climates, so it's very hot and dry in the summer and we get a lot of precipitation in winter’s snowfall,” said Rosenberg. “We're at similar elevations and latitudes. So, the evaporation processes off the lakes are very similar, a lot of evaporation in the summer, not as much in the winter.” 

To increase the water level of these lakes, Rosenberg said there has to be a way to get more water into them, and that’s the puzzle the researchers are working on.

“It involves having mechanisms: legal mechanisms, accounting mechanisms, or maybe even financial mechanisms that allow water to be delivered to the lake,” said Rosenberg. “And right now, neither [lake] really has that.”

“We suggest in our research to try to shift agriculture dependent livelihoods to ecosystem dependent livelihoods,” said Sima. 

The researchers find that Lake Urmia managers should manage for multiple, diverse restoration objectives and the different associated lake levels rather than try to restore for a single, uniform target level.Their findings can be found free to readers in the Journal of Hydrology