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Ronny Berndtsson

Professor, Dep Director, MECW Dep Scientific Coordinator

Profile photo of Ronny Berndtsson

Integrated Watershed Management to Save the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Lake Urmia, Iran


  • Sina Khatami
  • Ronny Berndtsson

Summary, in English

Lake Urmia is a hypersaline lake in northwest Iran. Due to its unique aquatic ecosystem it has been designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO and a National Park under the 1971 Ramsar Convention. The biodiversity of the lake is determined by its salinity and Artemia urmiana is the dominant invertebrate and also the key element of the lake’s food chain. The lake is relatively shallow and satellite data indicate that the water level has plummeted during the last 17 years due to a dramatic decline in surface water inflow and consequent increase in salinity of the lake (from 166 g/L in 1995 to about 340 g/L in 2008). Thus, the entire lake’s ecology is threatened. The lake represents about 7% of the total surface water in Iran. About 20 permanent and periodic rivers together with other episodic streams are flowing into the lake. These rivers along with precipitation are the major sources of inflow and evaporation is the main outflow from this endorheic lake. In view of the above, the main objective of this paper was to review the state of art of knowledge for the threatened lake and to suggest possible solutions to improve the lake´s ecology. Hydrological and hydraulic data for the area are quite limited with short records. Many previous studies, using the same data records, have arrived at quite different management options to restore the lake´s ecology. The fundamental reason for the threatened lake´s ecology appears to be the lack of sustainable management. The paper evaluates different management options and their environmental impact. Through a multidisciplinary integrated approach, possible short-term and long-term solutions are presented to manage the lake´s ecology and reach a sustainable watershed management through a lake restoration project. Suggested integrated watershed management includes consideration of population growth and water demand, cloud seeding and rainwater harvesting, freshwater inflow to the lake and improved irrigation methods, efficient salt industry, establishing a waste water treatment plant and developing tourism industry as a source of income. Further hydrological modeling studies are needed to study the combined effect of climate change and dam construction. The paper is closed by discussing practical implications of the study and scaling-up possibilities.


  • Division of Water Resources Engineering

Publishing year





[Host publication title missing]

Document type

Conference paper


American Water Resources Association (AWRA)


  • Water Engineering


  • Urmia Lake
  • integrated watershed management
  • lake restoration
  • Artemia Urmiana
  • Salinity

Conference name

AWRA Annual Water Resources Conference

Conference date

2012-11-12 - 2012-11-15