With water shortage problems deepening across the country, nineteen Iranian MPs that resigned from the parliament two weeks ago to protest the handling of water resources in Isfahan, have returned back to the floor of Iranian Parliament to stage more protests.

Water disputes on the floor of Iranian Parliament.

On 19 Dec, 2018 the Head of Parliament announced the MPs will be returning to the House after President Rohani announced the establishment of the Working Group for the Revitalization of Zayandeh Rud River in Isfahan. The MPs who resigned over the water crisis in the country have not confirmed this but they have returned back to the floor.

Meanwhile representatives of Khuzestan, Chaharmahal Bakhtiari, Kohgiluyeh and Boyerahmad staged a protest at the parliamentary session predicting that the probable solution to the water problem in Isfahan province would add to the water problems in their province.

The resignees have stated that despite the president’s order for the establishment of the Working Group, there has been little development in this regard adding that the government’s budget bill for the coming year has no provisions for solving the drinking water crisis in the province.

Farmers in Isfahan are protesting and asking for their water rights

The debate is over the construction of Koohrang-3 Dam for transfer of water from Zardkuh to Zayandeh River. This year, Isfahan province allocated 34 billion toumans to completion of this project. The dam project has been halted for the past five years.

A highly disputed water source, Zayandeh Rud starts in the Zard-Kuh of the Zagros Mountains in the Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province. It then flows 400 kilometers eastward to the Gavkhouni wetland and swamp in Isfahan province.

Environmental activists and a number of representatives and authorities in the provinces of Chaharmahal-o Bakhtiari and Khuzestan are opposed to the construction of this dam. Koohrang 3 involves one of Karoon River’s sources. In Khuzestan, the implementation of water projects such as Koohrang 1 and 2 and the construction of huge dams along major rivers such as Dez and Karoon have already strained water resources in this province.

Protests to the transfer of water from sources that feed Karoon River have been ongoing in the past several years.

Construction on Kohrang 3 Dam in Iran

Isfahan MPs resigned in reaction to the suspension of water transfer from Kohgiluyeh and Boyerahmad but environmental experts say this water transfer project was approved over twenty years ago and did not take into account the acute climatic changes in the plateau. They maintain that it could easily lead to the drying out of Karoon River.

Isfahan provincial authorities have tried to implement several strategies including optimization of water usage and replenishment of Gavkhoni Wetland to remedy the water shortage problems but so far none have achieved any significant level of success.

In the past year, Eastern Isfahan farmers have been organizing protests against the management of water resources in their province. The protests have at times led to violence as on some occasions the farmers have cut off water transfer pipelines to Yazd province. Changes in the climate, overuse of underground waters and mismanagement of water resources has made water shortage a top concern all across Iran in the recent years.

Province of Isfahan has witnessed large-scale protests of farmers. The new round of Isfahan farmers’ protests began on 22 September 2018. East Isfahan farmers in Khorasgan, Qahdrijan, FouladShahr, ZarinShahr, Varzaneh, Kushk, Najafabad, and other towns and villages protested by parking tractors and agricultural machinery in the main squares and streets of the cities or by setting up protest tents.

On 22 and 23 November, farmers in Khorasgan and Ziar (both cities in Central District of Isfahan County, Isfahan Province) gathered in protest while they were wearing burial shrouds to indicate that they are ready for death. On 25 November, Ziar farmers who were protesting a shortage of water ended up breaking the main water pipeline that travels from Isfahan to Yazd Province. Security and police forces attacked the Isfahani farmers after breaking of the pipeline and suppressed the protesters.

This round of farmers’ protests in Isfahan is related to the failure of governments at a local as well as the national level to agree on their water management policies and to fulfill the promise of providing enough water for the autumn cultivation in Isfahan. The farmers in Isfahan province have been opposing the transfer of Zayandeh Rud water to other provinces including the neighboring Yazd province.

Isfhani farmers are specifically calling for the implementation of the 2014 resolution of the Supreme Council of Water on the revitalization of Zayandeh Rud basin and the arable land around this watershed. The implementation of this nine article resolution has so far been neglected. The Supreme Council of Water’s 2014 resolution about Zayandeh Rud, calls for the allocation of province-based water rights, determining the amount of water for the provinces of Isfahan, Yazd and Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari and preventing unauthorized water usage and allocation. The resolution also prohibits any new allocation of water rights from the source of Zayandeh Rud.

It has been reported that 300,000 farm-workers of Eastern Isfahan have lost jobs because of the shortage of water and the management crisis related to the allocation of water rights.