Am­bi­tious pipe­line to de­liver wa­ter from Turkey to Cyprus

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY DAVID R. SANDS

It won’t carry any oil, but an am­bi­tious pipe­line project link­ing reser­voirs in Turkey to the parched, iso­lated Turk­ish Repub­lic of North­ern Cyprus could prove as po­lit­i­cally charged as any project now un­der­way in the re­gion.

En­gi­neers be­hind the Baris Su (“Peace Wa­ter”) project said ear­lier this month they passed the half­way point on the 66-mile un­der­sea pipe­line, and could be de­liv­er­ing fresh wa­ter from Turkey to Turk­ish Cypri­ots for drink­ing and agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment by the end of the year.

When com­pleted, the $500 mil­lion­plus pipe­line is pro­jected to de­liver some 19.8 bil­lion gal­lons of wa­ter an­nu­ally and give the eth­nic Turk­ish en­clave sig­nif­i­cant new eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal lever­age in the stand­off with the majority Greek Cypriot com­mu­nity that has kept the Mediter­ranean is­land di­vided for four decades.

Turk­ish of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, who vis­ited the is­land this month, say they hope the prospect of a re­li­able wa­ter source will spur the lo­cal econ­omy and give fresh im­pe­tus to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion talks be­tween the two com­mu­ni­ties. Mr. Er­do­gan told Turk­ish Cypriot lead­ers the wa­ter could be used by both the Greek and Turk­ish com­mu­ni­ties, but only “as long as [Greek Cypri­ots] take the hand of peace we are of­fer­ing.”

Wa­ter is a con­stant con­cern for the is­land, which has in­ten­si­fied de­sali­na­tion and con­ser­va­tion ef­forts in re­cent years to com­pen­sate. The Cyprus News Agency re­ported in Au­gust that the is­land’s reser­voirs were at only 37 per­cent ca­pac­ity, down from 73 per­cent a year ear­lier. The Baris Su pipe­line is de­signed to meet the Turk­ish Repub­lic’s drink­ing and ir­ri­ga­tion needs through at least 2040.

“Wa­ter is like oil and gas for the re­gion,” Vey­sel Ay­han, di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Mid­dle East Peace Re­search Cen­ter, an Ankara think tank, told the on­line re­gional news ser­vice Al Mon­i­tor.

Beyond its po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions, the pipe­line rep­re­sents what ex­perts say is a re­mark­able en­gi­neer­ing feat and one Turk­ish of­fi­cials say they could repli­cate in ex­port­ing wa­ter to other mar­kets in the re­gion.

Other coun­tries, in­clud­ing China and Spain, have built gi­ant net­works to trans­port fresh wa­ter to re­gions that need it, but the Cyprus project will in­clude sev­eral unique fea­tures.

Project en­gi­neers have con­structed dams on both the Greek and Turk­ish Cypriot sides, but the heart of the project is a 50-mile un­der­wa­ter pipe­line cross­ing the Mediter­ranean. Un­like oil and gas pipe­lines that typ­i­cally rest on the ocean floor, the Baris Su will “hang” about 800 feet be­low the sur­face, its high-den­sity poly­eth­yl­ene seg­ments held up by a se­ries of poles run­ning down to the seabed.

En­vi­ron­men­tal groups have raised some con­cerns about the long “teth­ers” hold­ing up the pipe­line and whether the project can with­stand tsunamis, earth­quakes and the Mediter­ranean’s sub­ma­rine traf­fic. But be­cause the pipe car­ries wa­ter, not oil or gas, back­ers say any eco­log­i­cal dam­age would be limited.

Still, the project re­mains po­lit­i­cally fraught on an is­land that has re­sisted past ef­forts at po­lit­i­cal re­uni­fi­ca­tion. Turkey, which first sent its troops to the north­ern part of the is­land when eth­nic clashes broke out in 1974, re­mains the only coun­try that of­fi­cially rec­og­nizes the Turk­ish Repub­lic. A U.N.-backed ref­er­en­dum for po­lit­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in 2004, con­sid­ered the best chance to date for a set­tle­ment, fell apart after the majority Greek Cypriot com­mu­nity voted it down.

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