Existing Water Resources

The Kurdistan Region is home to plentiful water resources, most notably its numerous river systems. Originating in southern Turkey, the Great Zab River serves as a major water source for the Erbil and Duhok Governorates, while the similarly named Lesser Zab River originates within the Kurdistan Region. The Sirwan and Alwan Rivers pass through the autonomous region from their respective origin points in Iran, while the Tigris River traverses the Slemani Governorate, and then runs along the southwestern border of the Erbil Governorate for a significant distance. The KRG also operates dams at the Region’s three major lakes: Mosul, Dukan, and Darbandikhan. In addition, KRG sources note that Kurdistan is home to 5,174 natural springs (the majority of which are located in the Duhok Governorate). As a result of these and other factors, studies have indicated that approximately 50% of the water in the Kurdistan Region exists domestically (in contrast to an estimated 8% in the rest of Iraq).

Overuse Fueling Depletion

The sheer number of water wells currently in use (either for personal or commercial use) has helped provide a greater portion of the population with readily available water. However, taxes on water are levied based on land size rather than on consumption. As a result, the KRG Ministry of Planning estimates that individual water usage within the Kurdistan Region is approximately four times higher than the World Bank standard. To combat this issue, the KRG has prioritized a rapid expansion of its number of dams. The construction of the three major dams is expected to be completed by 2018. With an expanded dam network, the government could begin shifting consumption away from its dwindling groundwater resources.

The KRG Ministry of Planning estimates that individual water usage within the Kurdistan Region is approximately four times higher than the World Bank standard.

Declining Availability

Changing environmental conditions throughout the Middle East have had an increasingly measurable impact on the Kurdistan Region. Also, the lack of development of water resources has caused significant damage to the entire agricultural sector, especially during dry periods. Recent reports which indicated an expected increase in drought conditions over the next 30 years caused Iranian officials to begin multiple dam projects, with an eye towards redirecting bodies of water within the country towards areas that are most in need of water resources. These projects could potentially sever strategically significant waterways that flow from Iran into Turkey. Although dam projects in southern Turkey have had less immediate impacts on Kurdish water resources, no formal terms have been agreed that would ensure that such bodies of water remain open and available. A United Nations Development Program (UNDP) study noted that these factors have contributed to a 20% decrease in available water per citizen. Erratic weather patterns have also forced citizens of Kurdistan to become increasingly reliant on the groundwater reservoirs for their water needs. The Ministry of Agriculture and Water estimates that there are approximately 20,000 authorized wells in use, though it is likely that around 18,000 unauthorized or illegal wells operate on a regular basis. There are over 6,000 wells (legal and illegal) for agricultural purposes, and over 500 wells for industrial purposes.

Water Resources Data 2014

Infrastructure Needed to Fully Address Water Concerns

To counteract certain issues relating to the excessive consumption of water, the General Directorate of Water and Sewerage (operating under the umbrella of the Ministry of Municipality and Tourism) instituted a strategic plan relating to both the increase of available potable water and the treatment of the Region’s wastewater. The plan itself calls for a multi-phase approach to address a wide variety of issues that are presently placing a strain on Kurdistan’ limited resources. These solutions include the long-promoted installation of water meters to increase usage fees, the creation of new laws to promote more binding regulations, establishing long-term water development facilities, and (perhaps most notably) the creation of multiple water treatment plants.

Studies have indicated that approximately 50% of the water in the Kurdistan Region exists domestically (in contrast to an estimated 8% in the rest of Iraq).

The Kurdistan Region at present is dramatically underserved in terms of facilities for water processing, treatment, and recycling. To address this dilemma, the KRG authorized the construction of wastewater treatment facilities in multiple locales throughout the Region. Construction at the $113 million Goptapa Chamchamel Water Project, located in the Slemani governorate, is already underway, as is work at the $96 million Amedy Water Project (situated in the Duhok governorate). The primary aims of these facilities, which both have targeted completion dates of 2015, will be to supply their surrounding environs with potable water on a more modern, consistent scale. Similar projects (including the $960 million Erbil Waste Water Treatment Plant and Network) are in various stages of planning and are expected help modernize, supply, and regulate the Region’s expanding urban population centers.

Future Water Projects
Current Water Projects