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Year: 2008 Revision date: -- Revision type: --

Regional report: Water Report 34, 2009: English or Arabic

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Geography, climate and population


Turkey occupies a total area of about 783 560 km2 of which approximately 10 400 km2 are inland lakes. It forms the bridge between Europe and Asia, with about 3 percent of its land in Europe (Thrace) and the rest in Asia (Anatolia). It is bordered by Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Islamic Republic of Iran in the east, by the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic in the southeast, by the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea in the south and west, by Bulgaria and Greece in the northwest, and finally by the Black Sea in the north. The total coastline is over 10 000 km, compared to a total land border with other countries of about 2 950 km in length.

The cultivated area of 26.6 million ha covers one-third of the total area of the country, of which about 10 percent is occupied by permanent crops, mainly vineyards, fruit trees and olives (Table 1).


Turkey has four seasons, but the climate varies widely across the country. Turkey experiences both maritime and continental weather patterns which, combined with its highly varied topography, cause extreme geoclimatic diversity. The Black Sea region in the north receives rain throughout the year and has both mild summers and mild winters. The southern coastal Mediterranean region is regarded as subtropical, characterized by hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters. The Aegean region (Western Anatolia) has mountains which run roughly east to west (i.e. perpendicular to the coast) and which are interspersed with grassy floodplains. This region also has a Mediterranean type of climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters. Central Anatolia is a vast high plateau with an average altitude of 1 132 meters above sea level and a semi-arid continental climate with hot and dry summers and cold winters.

The average annual temperature is 18-20 °C on the south coast, falling to 14-15 °C on the west coast, and fluctuates between 4 and 19 °C in the interior regions, depending on the distance from the sea and the altitude.

The average annual rainfall in Turkey is about 643 mm, with significant spatial and temporal fluctuations. Rainfall is scarce during the growing season in normal years in most parts of Turkey. Overall, the western and southern coastal regions receive 800-1 000 mm of rainfall per year. The northern coastal zone (the Black Sea region) receives the highest annual rainfall (1 260–2 500 mm). Central Anatolia receives the lowest rainfall (200-600 mm) which, combined with high temperatures and high evaporation rates, causes drought during the summer months. Evaporation and/or evapotranspiration rates are high particularly in the southeast region, which receives almost no rainfall during the summer, and can reach more than 2 000 mm/year. The southeast region records very low humidity levels, while the coastal regions have quite high levels, in line with precipitation rates.

Snow can be seen almost everywhere in Turkey, but the number of snowy days and the period covered by snow differ from region to region. There is one or less snowy day in the Mediterranean and Aegean regions, whereas in parts of eastern Anatolia there can be up to 120 days of snow. On the high mountains, snow cover can be seen throughout the year, which melts slowly.


The population of Turkey is 73.2 million (2005) with an average annual population growth rate of 1.4 percent whereas it was almost 2 percent per year in the previous decade. Population density is 93.4 inhabitants/km2 (Table 1). The rural population declined from 41 percent in 1990 to 33 percent in 2005. In 2006, about 98 and 96 percent of the urban and 95 and 72 percent of the rural population have access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation respectively.

Economy, agriculture and food security

In 2006 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was US$402.7 billion, and agriculture contributed almost 10 percent of GDP. The economically active population is about 35.2 million (2005) of which 61 percent is male and 39 percent female. In agriculture, 15 million inhabitants are economically active of which 35 percent is male and 65 percent female. The unemployment rate in 2005 was around 9 percent. In 2002 an estimated 1 515 adults in Turkey were infected by HIV, but data on its impact on the labour force are not available.

Turkey is a major agricultural producer. Wheat is the staple food crop with a share of 67 percent in total grain production. The principal agricultural exports are field crops, industrial crops, fruit, vegetables, and small livestock. The share of crop production in total agricultural production is 73.5 percent.

Water resources

Turkey is divided into 26 hydrological basins with large differences in specific discharge (Table 2) (GDRS, 2003). Most rivers originate in Turkey and there are more than 120 natural lakes and 579 artificial lakes. Total internal renewable water resources are estimated at 227 km3/year (Table 3). About 186 km3 is surface water and 69 km3 groundwater, while 28 km3 is considered to be the overlap between surface water and groundwater. Average surface runoff entering the country from Bulgaria and the Syrian Arab Republic is 1.8 km3/year, of which 0.6 km3 from the Tunca River coming from Bulgaria and 1.2 km3 from the Asi-Orontes coming from the Syrian Arab Republic. The Meriç River, originating in Bulgaria, forms the border between Greece and Turkey with a flow of 5.8 km3/year and therefore the part accounted for by Turkey is considered to be half of the total flow or 2.9 km3/year. This gives a total inflow of 4.7 km3/year. Adding the incoming flow to the internal renewable water resources brings the total natural renewable water resources to 231.7 km3/year. Of the total flow of 53.74 km3/year leaving the country, 28.1 km3 flows to the Syrian Arab Republic (of which 26.29 km3 is the natural outflow of the Euphrates), 21.33 km3 to Iraq (Tigris and affluent), and 4.31 km3 to Georgia. Groundwater flows to other countries are estimated at 11 km3/year, of which 1.2 km3/year to the Khabour Springs feeding the Khabour River, situated in the Syrian Arab Republic, with a runoff of 1.2 km3/year, have their origin in groundwater coming from Turkey. Taking into consideration the outflow and the flows reserved between countries (see international water issues below), the total actual renewable water resources are equal to 213.56 km3/year.

Turkey contributes about 90 percent of the total annual flow of the Euphrates, while the remaining part originates in the Syrian Arab Republic and nothing is added further downstream in Iraq. Turkey contributes 38 percent directly to the main Tigris River and another 11 percent to its tributaries joining the main river further downstream in Iraq. In general, the streams and rivers vary greatly in their flow from season to season and from year to year. For example, the Euphrates’ annual flow at the border with the Syrian Arab Republic ranged from 15.3 km3 in 1961 to 42.7 km3 in 1963.

A trend analysis of annual minimum, maximum and mean stream-flow variables in Turkey showed that there was a significant decreasing trend seen mostly in the basins in western Turkey, whereas some basins draining to the Black Sea exhibited significant increasing trends. Almost no evidence of any significant change was experienced in the rest of the country (Topaloglu, 2006).

A significant part of the water in mountainous coastal areas finds its way to the sea without forming any large groundwater reservoir. Hydrogeological surveys carried out in 342 plains in order to assess groundwater potential, estimated the ‘reliable groundwater reserves’ or ‘exploitable groundwater’ at 14 km3/year (Kirmizitas, 2006). The legislation on groundwater reserves taking effect in 1960 mandated the DSI (General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works) to carry out work for the exploration, utilization, maintenance and registration of groundwater reserves in Turkey. Under this mandate, it conducts surveys on groundwater reserves and makes the necessary arrangements for the utilization of identified reserves. So far the DSI has allocated an annual 11.44 km3 of this reliable reserve, of which 5.20 km3 for municipal and industrial purposes, 3.90 km3 for state administered irrigation and 2.34 km3 for private irrigation schemes (DSI, 2006).

Turkey is a country rich in wetlands, ranking first in this respect among the Middle Eastern and European countries. There are more than 250 wetlands in the country with a total area of approximately one million hectares. Almost 75 wetlands are larger than 100 hectares (TÇV, 1995). Of all Turkish wetlands, 60 percent has freshwater, 20 percent brackish water and 20 percent salt water. Turkey’s wetlands are important because they are concentrated in Anatolia, which is crossed by two major bird migration routes. There are four major wetlands: Göksu Delta, Kizilirmak Delta, Sultan Marshes and Kus Cenneti. Five wetlands are identified as “Ramsar” sites: Göksu Delta, Manyas Bird Sanctuary, Sultan Marsh, Lake Burdur and Lake Seyfe. Based on international criteria, 18 wetlands have been classified as first class areas (Class A) that can offer refuge and food to over 25 000 birds at a time. An additional 45 wetlands have been identified as Class B, accommodating 10 000-25 000 birds.

The most serious negative development encountered in the preservation of wetlands is intentional draining. Swamps and marshes have been drained and reclaimed for agriculture and for malaria control (Harmancioglu et al, 2001). A second important threat to the wetlands is pollution, both directly and indirectly by the rivers that feed them. In particular, sediments in contaminated rivers accumulate in wetlands. The heavy metals and pesticides cause mass deaths of fish, frogs and waterfowl. Another threat to wetlands is the collection of bird eggs and frogs, cutting and burning of grasses, grazing cattle, especially water buffalo, in the shallow areas.

By 2006, 208 large dams, mostly rock-fill or earth-fill, had been constructed. In total 579 dams have been completed and put into service for water supply, irrigation, hydropower and flood control (DSI, 2006). Almost 210 dams are under construction. The 208 large dams were constructed in large irrigation schemes (>1 000 ha, with 70 percent >10 000 ha), the rest are in the small irrigation schemes (<1 000 ha). The large dams have a total reservoir capacity of almost 157 km3, whereas the total capacity of all dams is 651 km3.

The Ataturk dam on the Euphrates River in the south-eastern part of the country, with a total storage capacity of 48.7 km3, is one of the 10 largest dams in the world. In the beginning of 1990, the filling of the reservoir behind the dam started and was completed in 1992. The surface area of the reservoir is about 817 km2. The water obtained from the Ataturk dam is carried to the Harran Plain by the Sanliurfa tunnel system, which is the largest tunnel system in the world in view of its length and flow rate. The water passes through banners which are 26.4 km in length and 7.62 m in diameter with an estimated flow of about 328 m3/s, which is one-third of the total flow of the Euphrates.

There are 3 215 municipalities in Turkey, 1 327 of which have their own sewage system. About 60 percent of the population is connected to a wastewater treatment plant. Today, almost 1.68 km3 of municipal wastewater per year is treated using extended aeration, biological nutrient removal (BNR) and trickling filters system (TÜIK, 2003). In 1994 treatment of municipal wastewater was estimated at 0.1 km3/year. In the year 2000, the GDRS (General Directorate of Rural Services) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Village Affairs ordered every village to have a wastewater treatment plant which uses special absorbent crops, such as reed and grass, for treating municipal wastewater. Whereas this project is successful in some regions, no reliable statistically data are available as the GDRS were discontinued following a government reorganization.

International water issues

About 615 km, or one-fifth of the total border length of 2 950 km between Turkey and other countries, is formed by rivers: 238 km with Bulgaria and Greece, 243 km with Armenia and Georgia, 76 km with the Syrian Arab Republic, 58 km with Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iran. In 1927, Turkey and the USSR signed a “Treaty on the beneficial uses of boundary waters”, in which they agreed to share the water on an equal share basis. A joint Boundary Water Commission was established (without legal identity) to control the use of the frontier water. In 1973, the two governments signed an additional “Treaty on the joint construction of the Arpaçay or Ahurhyan storage dam”. After the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), Turkey and Greece signed several protocols regarding the control and management of the Meriç River which flows along the border between Greece and Turkey.

Concerning the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers a similar protocol was established in 1946 when Turkey and Iraq agreed that the control and management of the rivers depended to a large extent on flow regulation in the Turkish source areas. In addition, Turkey agreed to begin monitoring the two rivers and to share related data with Iraq. In 1980, Turkey and Iraq further specified the nature of the earlier protocol by establishing a joint Technical Committee on Regional Waters. After a bilateral agreement in 1982, the Syrian Arab Republic joined the committee. Turkey unilaterally guaranteed that it will allow 500 m3/s water flow (15.75 km3/year) across the border to the Syrian Arab Republic, but no formal agreement has been obtained so far on sharing of the Euphrates water. Problems regarding sharing water might arise between Turkey, the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq because, according to the different scenarios established, full irrigation development by the countries in the Euphrates-Tigris river basins would lead to water shortages and solutions will have to be found at basin level through regional cooperation.

The construction of the Ataturk Dam, one of the GAP projects completed in 1992, has been widely portrayed in the Arab media as a belligerent act, since Turkey began the process of filling the Ataturk dam by shutting off the river flow for a month (Akanda et al, 2007). Both the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq accused Turkey of not informing them about the cut-off, thereby causing considerable harm. Iraq even threatened to bomb the Euphrates dams. Turkey countered that its co-riparians had been informed in good time that river flow would be interrupted for a period of one month for reasons of “technical necessity” (Kaya, 1998). Turkey returned to previous flow-sharing agreements after the dam became operational, but the conflicts were never fully resolved as downstream demands had increased in the meantime (Akanda et al, 2007).

As shown, a number of crises have occurred in the Euphrates-Tigris basin, amongst other things as a result of lack of communication, conflicting approaches, unilateral development, and inefficient water management practices. The Arab countries have long accused Turkey of violating international water laws with regard to the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers. Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic consider these rivers as international, and thus claim a share of their waters. Turkey, in contrast, refuses to concede the international character of the two rivers and only speaks of the rational utilization of transboundary waters. According to Turkey, the Euphrates becomes an international river only after it joins the Tigris in lower Iraq to form the Shatt al-Arab, which then serves as the border between Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iran until it reaches the Persian Gulf only 193 km further downstream. Furthermore, Turkey is the only country in the Euphrates basin to have voted against the United Nations Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses. According to Turkey, if signed, the law would give the lower riparians a right of veto over Turkey’s development plans. Consequently, Turkey maintains that the Convention does not apply to them and is thus not legally binding (Akanda et al, 2007).

In 2001, a Joint Communiqué was signed between the General Organization for Land Development (GOLD) of the government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the GAP Regional Development Administration (GAP-RDA), which works under the Turkish Prime Minister’s Office. This agreement envisions supporting training, technology exchange, study missions, and joint projects (Akanda et al, 2007).

In April 2008, Turkey, the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq decided to cooperate on water issues by establishing a water institute consisting of 18 water experts from each country to work toward the resolution of water-related problems between the three countries. This institute will conduct its studies at the facilities of the Ataturk Dam, the biggest dam in Turkey, and plans to develop projects for the fair and effective use of transboundary water resources (Yavuz, 2008).

Water use

In 2003, the total water withdrawal was estimated at 40.1 km3/year, of which 74 percent for irrigation, 15 percent for municipal purposes and 11 percent for industrial purposes (Table 4, Figure 1 and Figure 2). In 2000, the total water withdrawal was 42 km3. Of this total 10.5 km3 was groundwater withdrawal of which 39 percent for irrigation, 37 percent for municipal purposes and 24 percent for industrial purposes. Demand for groundwater is rapidly increasing, especially in areas where there is a lack or an extreme shortage of surface water. Apart from private initiatives for various purposes, by the end of 1998 the DSI and the GDRS had established irrigation facilities using groundwater to irrigate 505 783 ha of land (net irrigated area 434 120 ha).

Since 1975, non-conventional sources of water such as urban wastewater and drainage water have been used as water sources for irrigation. Urban wastewater discharged to the sewage systems was about 2.77 km3 in 2006 (Öztürk, 2006) (Table 4). The treated wastewater of about 1.68 km3 is used in different ways. Its use for irrigation is limited to some dry provinces such as the central and southeastern regions of Turkey, where almost 200 000 ha are irrigated by wastewater (Gökçay, 2004) (Table 5). In some irrigation areas, such as Seyhan and Harran, drainage water is used for irrigation during dry years at the lower part of the scheme where the water delivered is insufficient for irrigation. At present, no data for the amount of drainage water used for irrigation are available.

Irrigation and drainage

Evolution of irrigation development

Out of the cultivable area of 28 million ha, almost 26 million ha are classified as suitable for irrigation according to the USDA-Reclamation Bureau Method. Considering the availability of water resources, this area is reduced to 12.5 million ha. Moreover, when economic considerations are included, Turkey’s official estimated irrigation potential is 8.5 million ha, of which 93 percent from surface water resources and 7 percent from groundwater.

Irrigation development in Turkey is carried out by the public sector, represented by the DSI (General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works) and the GDRS (General Directorate of Rural Services), or by farmers and groups of farmers. Irrigation development by the public sector is called improved irrigation, while irrigation development by farmers themselves without a project is called public (or also primitive) irrigation. In 1965, less than 0.5 million ha had been developed by the government and about 1.1 million ha by farmers. In January 1994, of the total of about 4.2 million ha under irrigation more than 3.1 million ha had been developed by the DSI and the GDRS. In 2006, of the total of 4.97 million ha almost 3.97 million ha had been developed by the public sector, of which 2.8 million ha by the DSI and 1.1 million ha by the GDRS. Table 6 shows the irrigation area by organization type around 2000.

Of the total area equipped for irrigation, which was 4 860 800 hectares in 2005, about 78 percent used primary surface water resources, 19 percent primary groundwater and 3 percent non-conventional sources of water, see Table 7 and Figure 3 (DSI, 2006). Table 8 shows the source of the water used by public irrigation schemes in the different regions in 2003 (SIS, 2003).

In the irrigation schemes constructed by the DSI and the GDRS, irrigation water is conveyed by different types of canals: trapezoidal canals (classic type) are used in 45 percent of all schemes, while 48 percent use canalettes (half ellipsoidal open canals constructed above the surface of the ground) and 7 percent use pipes. About 71 percent of the area equipped for irrigation uses a gravity distribution system. In 2006, of the total area equipped for irrigation, 92 percent used surface irrigation methods, 6 percent sprinkler irrigation (mostly hand-move) and 2 percent localized irrigation (Figure 4). In the regions of Marmara (Bursa), Thrace (Edirne) and Middle-East (Kayseri), sprinkler irrigation systems accounted for a larger share with 62, 14 and 11 percent respectively. In the Mediterranean region (around Adana) 47 percent used drip irrigation methods. In the remaining regions, only surface irrigation methods were used. In schemes transferred to farmers, on average 92 percent used surface irrigation, 7 percent sprinkler irrigation and 1 percent drip irrigation methods (Wasamed, 2003).

In 2002, 604 231 ha, of which 118 914 ha of DSI-operated schemes and 485 317 ha of irrigation schemes transferred to farmers to manage, could not be irrigated for various reasons, as explained in Table 9. Three years later, in 2005, 678 448 ha could not be irrigated, of which 42 443 ha of DSI-operated schemes and and 636 005 ha of irrigation schemes transferred to farmers to manage. In 2006, the area equipped for irrigation but not irrigated was estimated at 650 000 ha. In 1994, 44 percent of the schemes were larger than 1 000 ha (Figure 5).

Today, in all cities, landscape and public gardens are irrigated, however, data for urban and peri-urban irrigation are not available for the whole of Turkey.

There is no waterharvesting in Turkey. In the past, in the Manisa province of the Aegean region, a water spreading system was used in small vineyards (Akyürek, 1978). However, this has now been replaced by a new irrigation system.

Role of irrigation in agricultural production, the economy and society

Diverse geoclimatic characteristics have led to the development of a wide range of farming systems throughout the country under both rainfed and irrigated conditions. The average yield of irrigated land can be five times that of dry farming land and the average value-added per irrigated hectare is 2.6 times that of one rainfed hectare. While the area equipped for irrigation accounts for less than 20 percent of the cultivated area, it contributes 34 percent to the agricultural GDP derived from crops (Nostrum-DSS, 2006).

In 2006, just over 4.2 million ha, or 86 percent of the equipped area, was actually irrigated (Table 7). In general, the percentage of equipped area actually irrigated varies between 38 and 88 percent, with large regional and annual fluctuations. The long-term average value for DSI irrigation areas is about 65 percent. In 2004, the harvested irrigated crop area was about 4.2 million ha. More than 1.7 million ha or over 40 percent of this area was occupied by cotton, maize and sunflower. Other important irrigated crops are vegetables, fodder, sugar beet, potatoes and wheat, occupying another 1.6 million ha (Table 7 and Figure 6). The average yield for irrigated cereals (wheat and barley) was 4.5 tonnes/ha as against 2.3 tonnes/ha for rainfed cereals. For irrigated pulses (pea, dry beans, cow vetches, and grass pea) the average weighed yield was 4.5 tonnes/ha, for cotton 3.8 tonnes/ha, for sunflower 1.6 tonnes/ha, for maize 5.5 tonnes/ha, for sugar beet 43 tonnes/ha, and for potatoes 26.8 tonnes/ha (TÜIK, 2006). Rainfed crops include field crops (wheat, barley, etc), nut trees (olive, pistachio, walnut, almond, hazelnut and chestnut), and winter vegetables. Of the total rainfed crop production, 42.5 percent comes from rainfed wheat and barley alone (TÜIK, 2006).

The cost of irrigation development varies between US$7 000/ha for small schemes and US$15 000/ha for large schemes (including pump). The costs of operation and maintenance (O&M) vary from US$100/ha for schemes smaller than 1 000 ha (56 percent of the total area), to US$60/ha for schemes larger than 1 000 ha (including dams). After the economic crisis in 2001, prices in Turkey increased five to tenfold and the cost of irrigation development rose sharply, but water prices did not change as much as those of irrigation development for political reasons. Ten years ago, the average cost of irrigation development was estimated at US$1 750/ha for small schemes and US$3 000/ha for large schemes. Water charges are based on cropped area, with different rates for each crop. During 2001-2005, the average water charges for large schemes were estimated as US$83/ha.

In 2004, the Turkish economy earned US$20.9 billion in production value from irrigated areas. This was equivalent to US$19.1 billion in terms of marketable production. In the same year, total O&M costs were estimated at US$416 million. Data for the rehabilitation and modernization of irrigation schemes are not available for the whole of Turkey, however, during planning 10 percent of net return is assigned for the rehabilitation and modernization of irrigation systems. In addition, it was estimated that collectible water fees on the irrigated areas would amount to US$406.7 million. This brings the total net return from irrigation to about US$19 billion.

While agriculture is one of the most important factors in providing employment, the urban population is increasing and the part of the economically active population working in agriculture is declining steadily, from 64 percent in the 1970s to just over 40 percent at present. Of the women working in the agricultural sector, 81 percent are unpaid family workers, 16 percent are self-employed or employers themselves, and 3 percent are regular or casual employees. In rural areas, irrigation is the most important source of employment and an important factor in preventing migration to urban areas. For example, it is estimated that when the irrigated areas reach 6.5 million ha, this will provide work for 2 million unemployed people in rural areas (DSI, 2006). Irrigation also increases the gross domestic agricultural product (GDAP): in 2004 the average GDAP was US$400/ha without irrigation and US$2 000/ha with irrigation. Women represent 64 percent of the agricultural labour force, but more men than women are employed in agricultural water management (for example in irrigation, drainage, and erosion control).

Both the distribution efficiency Ed (the combination of the conveyance efficiency Ec and the field canal efficiency Eb, Ed = Ec × Eb) and the field application efficiency Ea vary depending on regional conditions and the irrigation methods employed. Average field application efficiencies for the country are 84 percent for drip, 80 percent for sprinkler and 55 percent for surface irrigation. Turkey’s distribution efficiency shows fluctuations by region and is calculated to be 87–97 percent (Wasamed, 2004). The average total project efficiency Ep (Ep = Ed × Ea) depends on the institutions which operate and manage the irrigation systems. In 2001, it was calculated that the total irrigation efficiency was 38 percent in the DSI-operated irrigation schemes and 48 percent in irrigation schemes where the management was transferred to the farmers (DSI, 2006).

Status and evolution of drainage systems

The DSI and the GDRS construct the drainage infrastructure in the irrigation schemes. The main, secondary and tertiary drainage canals are constructed by the DSI, while the GDRS builds the on-farm drainage systems. In total, 20 716 km of drainage canals have been constructed by the DSI, of which 5 133 km main canals, 6 499 km secondary canals and 9 083 km tertiary drainage canals. For the operation, maintenance and repair of drainage canals, 38 278 km of service-road have been built by the DSI (DSI, 2006). The total area drained in irrigation schemes is 340 890 ha. In addition, 113 628 ha of wetlands had been drained by DSI by 2006. During recent decades, the GDRS has carried out many small on-farm water development works, for example on-farm drainage systems and saline and alkaline soils reclamation.

The area protected from flooding amounts to almost 397 302 ha (GDRS, 2006). It was estimated in 1992, that of the total area operated by the DSI, about 41 000 ha was salinized by irrigation. In 2004, the total area salinized by irrigation in Turkey was estimated at 1.5 million ha. An area of 2.8 million ha are affected by waterlogging and drainage problems (Sönmez, 2004).

Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture


Two institutions are or were responsible for irrigation and drainage development activities, namely the previously mentioned DSI (General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works) and the GDRS (General Directorate of Rural Services).

The DSI was established in 1954 by an exclusive Act No. 6200 (Ozlu et al, 2002b). It is the main agency responsible for the planning, development and management of water and soil resources as well as the operation and maintenance of irrigation and drainage systems, including construction of dams for flood control, irrigation, power generation, pumping stations, water supply and groundwater development. In projects it manages directly, the DSI uses its own labour resources and mechanical equipment (Tekinel and Erdem, 1995). Based in Ankara, the DSI operates through its regional directorates situated in the 26 river basins. In these regions, 56 sub-directorates and 14 project directorates carry out operation and maintenance activities in irrigation through their field units (MSDC, 1999; Akusum and Kodal, 2000; Ozlu et al, 2002a).

The GDRS was established in 1985 as part of the reorganization of the General Directorate of Soil and Water, the General Directorate of Roads, Water and Electricity and the General Directorate of Soil and Resettlement. The GDRS was mainly responsible for irrigation development and small irrigation works up to 500 l/sec (MSDC, 1999; FNCI, 2001). However, the GDRS was abolished under Law No. 5286 of 13 January 2005 on Village Services and most of its duties and competencies were transferred to special provincial administrations in 79 provinces and to the greater municipalities in the provinces of Istanbul and Kocaeli. Many problems have occurred due to the lack of an inventory and standardization units. In 2005, Law No. 5403 gave powers to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs for soil protection and land use.

Water management

Irrigation projects have been implemented by the DSI and the GDRS. As is the case in many other countries, the irrigation schemes developed by the state are operated and managed in two ways: by the government and by local authorities, cooperatives and irrigation farmers unions in the irrigation districts (Uskay, 2001). The DSI can be responsible for the operation, maintenance and management of irrigation facilities it has constructed or it can transfer such responsibility to several organizations according to current legislation. In the case of a transfer, however, it is only the management that is transferred, not the ownership of these facilities. The DSI has transferred the largest area to Water User Associations (WUAs), which cover about 1.52 million ha of land. The responsibilities of the former GDRS were reassigned to the Special Provincial Administrations by Law No. 5286 after 2005.


Historically, Turkey had a poor record as regards collecting water fees before the management of irrigation schemes was transferred from the DSI to the WUAs. For example, the collection rate of water fees was 38 percent in 1989–1994. After management was transferred to the farmers, performance improved and cost recovery was 93 percent in 1997, 76 percent in 2003, and 87 percent in 2006. The two main inputs in the preparation of the water tariffs for irrigation management by the DSI are: cost of operation and maintenance and estimated areas that can be irrigated (Unver and Gupta, 2003). In schemes managed by the WUAs, the water tariffs are set annually when the budget of the association is prepared for the approval of the DSI and the local governorship. Water fees are collected by an official acting under Law No. 6183 on the Collection of Public Receivables. Depending on the decision of the WUAs, payments can be made in two or three instalments. There are economic incentives for early payment and substantial penalties for late payment (Halcrow-Dosar Joint Venture, 2000; Ozlu et al, 2003). Nevertheless, the present form of irrigation charges, based on the type of crop and the area irrigated, provides little incentive to irrigators to conserve water.

Policies and legislation

Although the DSI has had a policy of transferring irrigation systems management to users since the 1950s, the average area transferred only amounted to about 2 000 ha/year until 1993 (Doker et al, 2001). Since 1993, DSI policy has been to transfer only small and isolated schemes, which are difficult and uneconomical for them to manage. However, with persuasion from the World Bank, since 1993, the DSI also started to apply an Accelerated Transfer Program (ATP). The main purpose of the ATP has been to alleviate the unsustainable operation and maintenance financial burden on both DSI and government resources (Svendsen and Murray-Rust, 2001). The ATP in Turkey was founded on a downward-reaching link between the DSI and local administrations rather than through the bottom-up organization of village-level associations of irrigators (Svendsen and Nott, 1999). The ATP continues to be successfully implemented today (Yildirim and Çakmak, 2004).

Environment and health

The water quality of most rivers can be considered to be suitable for irrigating many soils and crops. Kizilirmak River has the water with the highest salinity - 2.25 dS/m.

Salinity-alkalinity and waterlogging problems are caused by irrigation and insufficient drainage systems. These problems increase gradually because of insufficient on-farm water development project works, insufficient land levelling, lack of maintenance and restoration of drainage systems, inadequate training and education of farmers, and ineffective agricultural extension services to avoid, for example, excessive use of water by farmers.

In areas where agrochemicals are extensively used, the hazardous effects of pesticides and fertilizers threaten the use of groundwater sources for drinking water. In the agricultural plains of Bornova (Izmir) the excessive use of agrochemicals resulted in significant groundwater pollution, with nitrate concentrations in the groundwater reaching the limit value of 45 mg/l (Harmancioglu et al, 2001). Again, in the Nevsehir-Nigde provinces in Middle Anatolia, where 25 percent of the total potato growing area and 44 percent of total produce are located, groundwater resources and soils are seriously polluted with nitrate concentration. Various proportions of pesticide residues (Lindane, Heptachlor, Aldrin, and Endosulfan) are encountered in drains, irrigation canals, small bays, some lakes and in well water. Pesticide use in Turkey is the highest in the Mediterranean region, particularly in the Çukurova region south of Adana. But the Black Sea is also becoming polluted with agricultural pesticides, although the residues are not yet at a level to constitute a hazard for human health. Some rivers and creeks such as the Ankara stream in Ankara province, the Ergene River and its branches in the Thrace region, Karasu creeks, a branch of Sakarya River in Eskisehir, and the Simav stream in the Aegean region are all polluted by industrial, municipal and agricultural wastewater (Dogan et al, 1996; Gidisoglu et al, 1996; Ögretir, 1992; Börekçi, 1986).

In several areas, problems emerge as urban activities encroach onto agricultural lands. There is an increasing interest in using the land as a vehicle for the treatment and disposal of the wastewater from agribusiness and urban activities. In particular there is currently concern about the use of polluted water resources to irrigate agricultural lands, especially in western Turkey, which has been experiencing water shortages on a regular basis in recent years.

The two major water-related diseases related to irrigation and water resources development are schistosomiasis (bilharzia) and malaria. Schistosomiasis occurs sporadically, but the implementation of large-scale projects under the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) may eventually lead to epidemics (Harmancioglu, 2001). Malaria has long been a significant health problem in the country and is still common in areas of irrigation and water resources development.

Prospects for agricultural water management

The Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) was planned for the lower Euphrates and the Tigris river basins within Turkey’s boundaries and is the biggest investment in the history of the country. The GAP is an integrated development project involving irrigated agriculture, agro-industry and supporting services including communications, healthcare and education. It includes 13 major projects of which 7 are in the Euphrates river basin and 6 in the Tigris river basin. After full development it will include 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power plants and the irrigation of almost 1.82 million ha. By 2005, 75 percent of the investment in energy and 12 percent of the investment in irrigation had been made with 213 000 ha under irrigation. At present, 103 000 ha in the Euphrates river basin and 57 000 ha in the Tigris river basin are under construction. In 1998, the Turkish Government decided to complete all irrigation investment in the GAP at the end of 2010 and, as a result, investment in irrigation is the top priority to cover plans for the remaining 910 000 ha in the Euphrates river basin and 540 000 ha in the Tigris river basin.

In most of the new development areas, sprinkler and localized irrigation will be used, especially drip irrigation. Surface irrigation is permitted only on the flat areas near the southern boundaries of Turkey. These irrigation projects have been financed locally and by international agencies.

Overall, however, the performance of the irrigation schemes have not yet reached acceptable levels (Wasamed, 2003). Irrigation efficiencies in almost all systems are low and, for various reasons, it is not yet possible to irrigate the total area. In all irrigation schemes, there are considerable variations in the size of the irrigated area and cropping pattern from year to year.

Water consumption projections by sector for 2030 have been made considering the needs of a growing population as well as those of the rapidly developing sectors of industry and tourism. These projections are based on the assumption that the DSI and the other agencies involved, including private sector companies, will develop their projects so that by 2030, 110 km3 of water will be available – the figure now considered to be the total exploitable renewable water resources. The projection presupposes that the 8.5 million ha of land that is economically irrigable will be brought under irrigation by the year 2030 and that total irrigation water withdrawal will reach 71.5 km3 by the same year. The target is to reduce the share of irrigation water in total water consumption to 65 percent by introducing and promoting more water-saving irrigation techniques (Wasamed, 2003). It is assumed that the present rate of population growth will begin to slow down and that the total population of the country will be around 90 million in 2030. Projections regarding water withdrawal for municipal purposes indicate a need for 25.3 km3 in 2030, of which 5 km3 for tourism. Assuming that the industry sector has an average annual growth rate of 4 percent, its projected water need in 2030 will be 13.2 km3.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the exploitable renewable water resources are enough to irrigate only 8?9 million ha. In order to irrigate a larger area, new sources of water need to be developed, such as non-conventional sources of water. Water treatment units are to be constructed in all residential and production areas. In addition, it is planned to equip 4 065 village units to treat wastewater biologically, as required by the Ministry of Agriculture at the end of 2006. Up to now, it is reported that very few village units treat wastewater because of organizational and bureaucratic problems and untreated wastewater is used directly for irrigation. The Government is working to solve these problems and extend the wastewater treatment project to all village units in Turkey.

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