Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hydrology and Eastern Turkey

I met with Engin and Didire, with a non profit grassroots environmental group Doga Dernegi. I am trying to plan a trip to eastern Turkey to research dam construction on the Tigris River, and specifically the Ilusu Dam. After seeing the devastation in the Mesopotamian Marshes from combined drought and water withdrawals, knowing the inadequate results of requests by the Iraqi government for water, I wanted to come investigate the headwaters of the watershed myself. The goal of Hima Mesopotamia is to link grassroots efforts to review dam construction on the Tigris and Euphrates watershed.

At this time, Turkey has a very robust economy. Wanting to become a member of the European Union, Turkey has committed to strengthening it environmental, cultural, human rights and relatioanships with neighboring states. Ironically, part of its committment to reducing fossil fuel combustion and green house gase emissions is to increase "renewable" hydroelectric energy development. I have heard between 2600-1600 dams are proposed in Turkey. Besides the Ilusu Dam on the Tigris River, there are 28 proposals on tributaries of the Tigris. The Ilusu Dam itself would flood 313 km2 with 400 km of river (240 river miles) impacted above the dam. Ilusu is planned to produce surge current, releasing water intermittently with fairly high peaks. This means that there will be a great deal of erosion and destruction along the banks of the Tigris when peak flows are released, damaging habitat for many species.

No Environmental Impact Assessment is proposed for the Ilusu dam. Turkey is saying that the dam proposal pre-dates current international environmental and social justice agreements. The EIS would evaluate impacts on flora, fauna, water quality, Hasankeyf and other archaeological sites, and on the local people and economy. The entire watershed impacts would be evaluated and the least damaging alternative selected. This would likely be several smaller dams. It is also likely to mean compensation for local people impacted by reservoir construction and loss of agricutlural soils and tourist industry. It also means release flows from the dams could optimize conditions downstream, to optimize fish and aquatic habitat, maintain riparian and wetland habitats, and maintain equitable flows in the Tigris River for downstream users.

I have just listed at the Barcelona Conference to the lives of Iraqi people, the Marsh Arabs, and a scientific assessment of the losses of the Mesopotamian Marshes. The tragedy is already unfolding downstream, and there are losses on the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. I want to go see for myself the impacts of the dams, and possible mitigation measures that could be take to reduce impacts to nature and the local culture.

Spending time in Turkey, I am so amazed by the antiquity of cultures laying on cultres. When we took a tour of the Hippodrom, where the old chariot races were held and political parties bet on the winning team, our guide said you cannot dig anywhere in Istanbul without finding and artifact. And the artifacts. date from the Assyrians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and the radically changing Turkey from WW! and being divided among European nations, WW2 and staying neutral, the great Ataturk bringing Turkey back to cohesiveness, then all the changes in the last decades.

Turkey has long been a U.S. ally, and a strategic partner in the region bordered by Iran, Iraq, Russia and ex Soviet Union nations. Now would be the time for the U.S. to implement its own environmental and social policies we use such as National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act. This is a huge deal, and the world isn't even hearing about it.

Lip service to protection of nature aside, there is no Environmental Impact Report on the results of Ilusu dam construction.

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