Turkey has suffered a dramatic fall in the level of its potable
water supply in recent months, with the water level in dams dropping alarmingly low and major rivers and lakes -- particularly in central Anatolia -- beginning to dry up.

Experts say that unregulated irrigation, together with pollution and global warming, are to blame for the country's looming water shortage, which may pose threats both economic and natural. Officials are urging citizen s to take measures for water conservation in the hope of mitigating the effects of what increasingly appears

to be a drought, perhaps a severe one.This year İstanbul is bracing itself for what looks to be an arid summer. Authorities and city residents alike are both wondering if the painful days of the past water shortage the city endured less than two decades ago once again lie around the corner. The amount of water stored in İstanbul's dams has fallen to less than 50 percent of capacity.

Meanwhile the İstanbul Water and Sewage Administration (İSKİ), State Waterworks Authority (DSI) and the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality are joining efforts to complete a project to supply water to İstanbul from the Melen River, located two-and-a-half hours from İstanbul. Authorities hope to be able to bring water from Melen by November this year.

İstanbul's dams currently hold 417 million cubic meters of water, corresponding to 48.35 percent of the city's total water-storage capacity, according to data from İSKİ, which pumps about 2 million cubic meters of water into the city every day. İSKİ authorities warn residents to be smart about conserving water. A dripping tap could waste as much as six tons of water every year. An official from İSKİ says, "A tap dripping 30 drops in 10 seconds would mean 27 tons of water wasted in a year. Since water reserves have significantly fallen due the recent drought, great responsibility lies on the shoulders of the city's residents. Many countries in the world have programs to promote water conservation. In some countries, consumers who leave the hose on for too long when they are watering their yard face penalties. There are examples of countries where washing cars or carpets have been banned."

Authorities say the Melen Project -- if brought to completion by November this year -- will supply 268 million cubic meters of water to the city. Authorities have other projects to fight possible shortages of water including conserving water from rivers flowing into the Black Sea. Officials say projects currently underway to supply water from the dams of İsaköy and Sungurlu have been sped up. "However there is a huge amount wasted here. If we can bring down the daily amount of water pumped to İstanbul to 1.75 million [cubic meters] from the current 2 million, we won't have a water shortage problem," one İSKİ official explained.

Drought and unregulated irrigation killing Turkey's rivers

Global warming has taken a huge toll on Kızılırmak, Turkey's longest river. Rain shortage and increasing temperatures have dried out the river, where mass deaths of fish are now common. The river's water level is less than ever as authorities conserve water in the nearby Hirfanlı, Kapulukaya and Yamula dams. Area residents can drive along the river bed when going for a picnic. Fishermen can pick up the fish swimming in the puddles that are all that's left of the river with their bare hands.

Veysel Bulur, an official from Kırıkkale's Environment and Forestry Department said the amount of water Kızılırmak holds has significantly fallen. "Central Anatolia is not rich in rainfall anyway and in the past year rainfall has significantly decreased"

Bulur, along with engineer Turgut Ünal, studied the causes of the decrease in water levels in the river's beds and the recent fish deaths. Bolur and Ünal concluded in their report that the decreased level of water had let to an excess growth of underwater weeds, leaving the fish without enough oxygen to die. The report also notes that waste water was dumped back into the river without being treated, causing further contamination.

Reports from other places in central Anatolia also confirm that the area's water sources are drying up. Unregulated irrigation, contamination and global warming contribute to the desiccation of the area's lakes.

Beyşehir Lake, where water was at a 24 meter depth 25 years ago, is now just seven-meters-deep. This has been caused by farming activity along the Konya-Çumru plain, for which area farmers are draining out excessive water from the lake. The lake has now lost more than 90 percent of its fish varieties. Meanwhile wastewater from agricultural activity being returned to the lake is another source threatening its existence.

Salt Lake (Tuz Gölü) -- which covered 260,000 hectares in 1997 -- is now located over a 160,000 hectare area. The biggest threat for this lake is untreated water being pumped back into it. A water treatment facility currently being built to save the lake is expected to start working in two years' time.

Likewise Seyfe Lake, one of Turkey's most important water assets, is drying out because three dams in the area have cut off its water supply. Meke Lake, known in Turkish as "dünya'nın nazar boncuğu" (the evil-eye protection bead of the world) is losing its waters due to low rainfall.