Original Paper

Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 27-35

First online:

Changes in the salinity of the Euphrates River system in Iraq

  • Khayyun A. RahiAffiliated withSchool of Geology, Oklahoma State University Email author 
  • , Todd HalihanAffiliated withSchool of Geology, Oklahoma State University

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The water salinity of the Euphrates River as it enters Iraq, expressed as total dissolved solids (TDS), has more than doubled compared to that of 1973. Downstream of Al Hindia Barrage, south of Baghdad, the salinity has increased gradually over the last 30 years. The annual average TDS at Al Nassiriah, in the lower reaches of the Euphrates, has increased from 1,080 ppm in 1979 to more than 4,500 ppm in 2001. Water quality of the Euphrates within Iraq has deteriorated due to the decreased flow that is entering Iraq, diverted flows to the river from Al Tharthar Lake, and irrigation-return flow. The decreased flow from upstream sources was due to reservoir construction projects. Water from Al Tharthar Lake and from irrigation return flow is being diverted to the Euphrates to compensate for the upstream deficit. An environmental flow rate of 178 m3/s (annual minimum flow, 5.6 bcm or about one-third of historic minimum flow) is proposed as the minimum discharge that must be flowing into Iraq to preserve the environment of the Euphrates River in Iraq. A flow of twice this amount would allow more reasonable downstream management with an input average salinity of 760 ppm.


Environmental flow Euphrates River Iraq Minimum instream flow Salinity