Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Infrastructure in Turkey

su Dam project- Water Infrastructure in Turkey
Photo 1: The Ilisu Dam project located along the Tigris River in the Batman Province in southeastern Turkey. Source: BULENT KILIC / AFP.

Between 1950 and 1980, Turkey prioritized its socio-economic development based on water and land resources. As such, the establishment in 1954 of the main water resources development organization, the State Hydraulic Works (Devlet Su İşleri, DSİ), came at a time when the country was beginning systematically to investigate and exploit its water resources under programmes for the construction of comprehensive hydraulic infrastructure (dams, irrigation and drainage systems, groundwater wells).[1]

Wastewater infrastructure

In 2016, the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization (MoEU) (renamed the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change in October 2021), completed a major initiative to assess the state of wastewater treatment in the country, including the efficiency and operational issues of household wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). Turkey has 1,170 domestic wastewater treatment facilities in service or under construction, according to the project Determination of the Current Status of Domestic/Urban Wastewater Treatment Plants and Determining the Need for Revision (TURAAT), and 10.5 million cubic metres (MCM) of wastewater is treated daily.[2] According to this project, municipalities created 82.9% of treated wastewater in 2016. This percentage rose to 85% in 2018. In 2023, Turkey’s target rate for municipal wastewater treatment is 100%.[3] Map 1 illustrates the distribution of WWTPs as well as the volume of wastewater treated across Turkey.

WWTPs in Turkey - Water Infrastructure in Turkey
Map 1: Distribution of wastewater treatment plants and volume of wastewater treated in Turkey.[4]

According to studies related to the reuse of treated wastewater, there are 26 WWTPs with varying reuse capacities. However, only 15 of them were able to produce reusable water in 2017. Due to architectural, mechanical and operational issues with the tertiary treatment processes, the remaining 11 WWTPs do not run their wastewater reclamation facilities. A total of 29.6 MCM of water was reclaimed and utilized from home and urban WWTPs. The reuse rate of domestic wastewater was found to be 0.78%.[5]

The results of the 2018 Municipal Water Statistics Survey showed that 1,397 out of 1,399 municipalities provided services through drinking and utility water networks. Municipalities drew 6.2 BCM of water from water sources to drinking and utility water networks. Just under 40% of this water was obtained from dams, 28.1% from wells, 18.4% from springs, 9% from rivers and 4.6% from lakes, ponds or seas.

Of a total of 6.2 BCM of water drawn into the networks, 3.6 BCM was treated in drinking and utility water treatment plants. Conventional treatment was applied to 92.1% of the treated water, advanced treatment to 7.8% and physical treatment to 0.1%.[6]

Potable water and the treatment of wastewater present significant problems, particularly in large cities. Population growth, illegal settling and unplanned expansion of urban areas are putting pressure both on the water mains and water basins. While the water supply is already insufficient to satisfy the needs of the population, unplanned urban growth negatively affects the quantity and quality of water resources in the water basins. Water transfer from other basins is recommended to meet urban water needs. Before this can take place, the old, damaged water networks, which cause substantial water losses, should be fixed. Water demand modelling based on population growth can be carried out for cities. In addition, the financial resources should be found for projects that use available water resources most efficiently.

Irrigation infrastructure

The DSİ, the General Directorate of Rural Services (GDRS), which was closed in 2005, and the General Directorate of Agrarian Reform are responsible for developing Turkey’s irrigation infrastructure. In 1965, less than 0.5 million ha had been developed by the government and about 1.1 million ha by farmers. As of 2010, 3.32 million ha had been developed by the DSİ, 1.29 million ha by the GDRS and 1 million ha by the private sector[7]. Irrigation development by the public sector is called improved irrigation, while irrigation development by farmers themselves without a project is called public or primitive irrigation.

Although agriculture’s contribution to GDP has declined over the past decades, the agricultural sector still plays an important role in foreign trade. In 2021, Turkey produced 61.7 million tons of grain and other plant products, except forage crops,[8] 24.9 million tons of fruits, beverages and spices and 31.8 million tons of vegetables.[9]

Between 1950 and 1965, open irrigation canals were constructed. Irrigation systems with canalettes were introduced after 1965 and were constructed between 1970 and 1980. By 1990, a low and medium pipe network with advanced pipe technologies was being used.[10] To reduce water loss, the DSİ shifted its policy from a classical open channel distribution network to more efficient systems. As of 2014, 9% of existing canals are open canals, 3% are canalettes and 88% are piped.[11] In traditional irrigation systems such as surface irrigation, water is often used inefficiently due to leakages, evaporation and operational losses. Approximately 81% of Turkey’s total irrigated area is irrigated by surface irrigation and 19% using pressurized irrigation methods.[12]

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry aims to increase the use of modern irrigation systems, from the current 29% to 94% following the completion of ongoing projects.[13]

Dams and hydropower plants

There are 861 dams in operation in Turkey. Among them, the Atatürk Dam has a surface area of 817 km2, Keban Dam 675 km2, Ilısu Dam 313 km2, Karakaya Dam 268 km2 and Hirfanlı Dam 263 km2.[14]

In parallel with economic development and population growth, power generation is also increasing, with per capita power consumption of 3,652 kilowatt hours (kWh) in 2019.[15] Turkey’s ability to meet energy demand with its own resources is gradually decreasing, and its dependency on imported energy is now 70%. Turkey’s gross hydraulic power potential is 433 billion kWh/yr, its technical potential is 216 billion kWh/yr and its economically available potential is 160 billion kWh/yr. The country has more than 600 hydroelectric power plants (HEPPs). Turkey has developed 42% of its technical hydroelectric power potential.[16]

Hydroelectric power potential is not uniform in terms of topography and hydrology. The highest energy potential is found in Turkey’s major transboundary basin, the Euphrates-Tigris River Basin. Approximately 47% of the power that was generated in 2005 was provided by the Keban, Karakaya and Atatürk dams, all of which are on the Euphrates River. Currently, the installed power of the 575 hydroelectric plants in operation is 26,400 megawatts (MW).[17] As of September 2021, 32% of Turkey’s electricity output comes from hydropower.[18]

Major regional water development projects

South-eastern Anatolian Project

The South-eastern Anatolian Project (GAP) was started in 1977. It is designed as an integrated development project that combines economic, social and cultural dimensions with agricultural modernization. The project involves 22 large dams, 19 hydropower plants and large-scale irrigation infrastructure for irrigating about 1.7 million ha (1.08 million ha on the Euphrates, 600,000 ha on the Tigris).[19]

So far, 19 dams have been completed as part of GAP. Irrigation investments, which are the major axis of the project and the essential condition for its completion, have made significant progress. GAP contributes to the generation of hydroelectric power. As of 2019, 14 HEPPs have been constructed, giving GAP energy investments a physical realization rate of 91.2%. With the HEPPs operational, the region now has an annual electricity generation capacity of 20.6 billion kWh.[20] By 2019, 40% of the planned irrigation projects were in operation, and a further 9% were under construction.[21]

Konya Plain Project

The Konya Plain Project (KOP) aims to meet the demand for irrigation, domestic and industrial water use, to prevent excess groundwater extraction, ensure balance in the groundwater table, increase agricultural yields, introduce modern irrigation systems, promote stockbreeding and protect the environment. When the KOP is completed, 1.1 million ha will be equipped with irrigation facilities and 164 MCM of water will be supplied for domestic and industrial needs.[22]

[1] DSİ (Devlet Su İşleri), 2022.
[2] MoEU (Ministry of Environment and Urbanization) and SU (Selcuk University), 2018. Reuse of Treated Wastewater in Turkey, Final Report. Ankara, Turkey.
[3] Nas, B, Uyanik, S, Aygün, A, Doğan, S, Erul, G, Nas, B, Turgut, S, Cop, M and Dolu, T, 2020. ‘Wastewater reuse in Turkey: from present status to future potential.’ Water Supply 20 (1): 73-82.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Bilgehan Nas; Sinan Uyanik; Ahmet Aygün; Selim Doğan; Gürsel Erul; K. Batuhan Nas; Sefa Turgut; Mustafa Cop; Taylan Dolu, Wastewater reuse in Turkey: from present status to future potential, Water Supply (2020) 20 (1): 73-82.
[6] TÜİK (Turkish Statistical Institute), 2018.; AA, 2019. ‘6.2 billion cubic metres of water was drawn into water networks.’ Published 8 October 2019.
[7] DSİ (Devlet Su İşleri), 2014. DSİ and Water. Ankara, Turkey, p. 18.
[8] TÜİK (Turkish Statistical Institute), 2021. Crop production statistics, 2021.
[9] TÜİK (Turkish Statistical Institute), 2021. Crop production statistics, 2021.
[10] DSİ (Devlet Su İşleri), 2014. DSİ and Water. Ankara, Turkey, p. 67.
[11] DSİ (Devlet Su İşleri), 2014. DSİ and Water. Ankara, Turkey, p. 70.
[12] DSİ (Devlet Su İşleri), 2014. DSİ and Water. Ankara, Turkey, p. 67.
[13] DSİ (Devlet Su İşleri), 2021. ‘The ratio of modern irrigation systems will increase to 94.’ Published 17 January 2021.
[14] DSİ (Devlet Su İşleri), 2021. Rivers and Lakes.
[15] Presidency of the Republic Türkiye, Presidency of Strategy and Budget, 2021.’nin%20y%C4%B1ll%C4%B1k%20ki%C5%9Fi%20ba%C5%9F%C4%B1,ki%C5%9Fi%20seviyesinde%20nispeten%20sabit%20seyretmektedir.
[16] Presidency of the Republic Türkiye ,Presidency of Strategy and Budget, 2021.
[17] AA, 2021. ‘Turkey is among the top 10 countries in the world in hydroelectric installed power.’ Published 1 September 2021.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Bağış, A. I, 1997. ‘Turkey’s hydropolitics of the Euphrates-Tigris Basin.’ International Journal of Water Resources Development 13(4): 567-581, p. 568; Kramer, A, Kibaroglu, A and Scheumann, W (eds), 2011. Turkey’s Water Policy – National Frameworks and International Cooperation. Springer, London, p. 39.
[20] GAP, n.d. GAPta Son Durum.
[21] DSİ (Devlet Su İşleri), 2014. DSİ and Water. Ankara, Turkey, p. 75.
[22] Muluk, Ç. B, Kurt, B, Turak, A, Türker, A, Çalışkan M. A, Balkız, Ö, Gümrükçü, S, Sarıgül, G, Zeydanlı, U, 2013. Türkiye’de Suyun Durumu ve Su Yönetiminde Yeni Yaklaşımlar: Çevresel Perspektif. İş Dünyası ve Sürdürülebilir Kalkınma Derneği – Doğa Koruma Merkezi, p. 34.