Water transfer as a solution to water shortage: A fix that can Backfire

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Zayandeh-Rud River Basin is one of the most important basins in central Iran, which has been continually challenged by water stress during the past 60. years. Traditionally, a supply-oriented management scheme has been prescribed as a reliable solution to water shortage problems in the basin, resulting in a number of water transfer projects that have more than doubled the natural flow of the river. The main objective of this study is to evaluate the reliability of inter-basin water transfer to meet the growing water demand in Zayandeh-Rud River Basin. A system dynamics model is developed to capture the interrelationships between different sub-systems of the river basin, namely the hydrologic, socioeconomic, and agricultural sub-systems. Results from simulating a range of possible policy options for resolving water shortage problems indicate that water is essentially the development engine of the system. Therefore, supplying more water to the basin without considering the dynamics of the interrelated problems will eventually lead to increased water demand. It is demonstrated that the Zayandeh-Rud River Basin management system has characteristics of the "Fixes that Backfire" system archetype, in which inter-basin water transfer is an inadequate water management policy, causing significant unintended side-effects. A comprehensive solution to the problem includes several policy options that simultaneously control the dynamics of the system, minimizing the risk of unintended consequences. In particular, policy makers should consider minimizing agricultural water demand through changing crop patterns as an effective policy solution for the basin's water problems. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.

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Journal of Hydrology