Istanbul dam amidst drought

Istanbul’s water reserves at critical levels

The water reserves that supply Istanbul are below 20%, their worst level in 15 years. Climate change, or a lack of foresight?

The water reserves in the dams that supply Istanbul continue to worry about their continuous decline and are at critical levels, mainly due to the decrease in rainfall and snow that has occurred this year in the region.

Despite calls for calm from the authorities, and the city’s metropolitan council insisting that reserves are sufficient to guarantee unrestricted supply for several months, the data are certainly alarming and shows that the reservoirs of the province of Istanbul are on average at only 19.79% of their capacity, their lowest level in the last 15 years.

According to figures from the Istanbul Water and Sewerage Administration (İSKİ), reserves such as Sazlıdere are only at 5.33% of their capacity, while the Darlık dam is the one that is currently at the highest level, reaching 46.46%. The rest of the dams range between 21% and 29%.

Considering that the dams and reservoirs that supply water to Istanbul have a total capacity to store 868.6 million cubic metres of water, and that currently they only hold a total of about 166 million cubic metres, it is easy to understand the concern of many experts for low water levels in a metropolis with 16 million inhabitants… that consumes 2.8 million cubic metres of water daily.

Climate change, or lack of foresight?

Although the lack of rainfall as a result of climate change is largely responsible for this problem, we must not forget the lack of foresight by the authorities; in fact, many experts consulted by Turkish media emphasise that global warming is only aggravating and accelerating a problem that was already evident in the last years; that is: the growing demand for water in a huge city like Istanbul.

What’s more: a crisis of this type was easily foreseeable in the last years; thus, for example, on January 4, 2019 the dams of the Istanbul were at 83.25% of their capacity, but a year later – January 4, 2020 – the water reserves only reached 39.02%. Already then, many warned about a possible supply problem if there was not enough rainfall before summer. We have finally reached January 4, 2021, with water reservoirs below 20%.

Although saving water can be a temporary solution in the short term, many experts also point to another determining factor to avoid wasting water: the distribution network, made up of 22,000 kilometres of pipes. A recent study published in Turkish media warned that more than 22% of the water supplied to Istanbul does not even reach its destination due to water leaks.