Keeping Sewage Out of Turkey's Salt Lake

tuz lake salt turkey photo
Migrated Image

Tuz Gölü (Tuz Lake) in Turkey. Photo via Resim Kalesi.

The primary source of water flow into Tuz Lake is neither rivers nor rainfall, but sewage from the nearby city of Konya and local villages and towns--and the pollution is not only killing the lake's ecosystem, but also making its way onto dining tables across Turkey."Tuz" means "salt" in Turkish, and the central Anatolian body of water does in fact yield 64 percent of the salt used in Turkey. Polluted water from Tuz Lake is also used by local villagers to irrigate their crops. These two facts make cleaning up the lake an urgent matter for human health as well as the environment, and have helped spur the construction of a new wastewater-treatment plant that began operating this month.

Once working at full capacity, the plant, constructed by the Konya Municipal Waterworks Authority (KOSKİ) over a four-year period, will clean 200,000 cubic meters of domestic wastewater per day, reducing pollution levels in the shallow lake, where insufficient rainfall, improper irrigation methods, and evaporation have created low water levels in which the polluted waste is more highly (and dangerously) concentrated.

In danger of drying up
More than 30 lakes in Turkey have dried up over the last 50 years; within a decade, the same fate could befall Tuz Lake, which has lost 60 percent of its water over the past 18 years.

The Konya region has the lowest surface-water levels in Turkey and has seen sharp drops in its underground water levels as well. Though arid, the area is heavily agricultural and Tuz Lake's 25,000-square-meter basin is a key source of water and habitat. It was once home to the country's largest flamingo colony, but the birds' numbers have dwindled to a handful due to a dramatic decrease in the saltwater shrimp they feed on. Cranes, white-fronted geese, and other water birds that live in the area are also at risk.

"According to data from the Environment and Forestry Ministry, 944 tons of detergent, 90,000 tons of oil and grease, 1,500 tons of organic matter and 276 tons of mercury, lead and other heavy metals make their way into the lake each year," reports the English-language newspaper Today's Zaman.

Critics point out that the new 750,000-square-meter treatment plant only removes biological contaminants, not chemical ones, but more such facilities are planned for the region, including one to treat industrial waste.

The KOSKİ plant will produce 80 percent of the energy it needs to run and will annually create 50 million cubic meters of water that are safe to use in agriculture. Additionally, according to the newspaper, "the sludge byproduct of the water purification process will be used as fertilizer in regions suffering from desertification."