Water flows toward power: Socioecological degradation of Lake Urmia, Iran

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Water is an invaluable resource, and equitable access to it is a fundamental human right. Disenfranchised groups often lose access to water resources because their interests are not well represented by decision makers. Excluding these groups from resource management policy often results in myopic decisions that contribute to further ecosystem damage. We describe the ecological degradation of Lake Urmia in Iran, which has recently experienced increased salinity and declining water quantity. The lake is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Ramsar site, and supports unique biodiversity in the region. The lake's decline is driven by the destruction of Zagros forests and the government's water policies, which diverted water to more politically connected agricultural land users, increasing social inequity and prompting more deforestation. The most straightforward restoration solution is to discontinue the diversions and allow critical inflows to recharge Lake Urmia, preserving the lake and wetlands for migratory birds, tourists, and local communities.

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© 2014 Taylor & Francis. Publisher’s version of record: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08941920.2014.905890

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Society and Natural Resources