this is the stuff that SHOULD be front page news and bush and the iraq war should be appluad for otherwise the restoration would NEVER happen. you can click on the links with all these articls to see pictures and satelite photos of the marshes http://www.furrowpump.com/Resources/RestoringMarshesIraq.htm Back to Eden: Restoring the Marshes of Iraq Text by Louis Jacobson Special to The Washington Post Monday, April 28, 2003; Page A11 Now that the war in Iraq has come to an abrupt end, a team of scientists will soon be heading to southern Iraq to determine whether a desert twice the size of Rhode Island can be turned back into the primeval marshland it once was -- before Saddam Hussein drained it. The marshlands of Mesopotamia, at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, have long been revered both for their unusual wetland ecology and for the 5,000-year-old culture of the Madan, or "Marsh Arabs." The marshlands may have been the inspiration for the biblical Garden of Eden, and the Madan are thought to descend from the Sumerians, who established humankind's first civilization. As recently as the 1990s, the Madan were still using marsh reeds to construct delicately arched dwellings on artificial islands and waterways. They lived on fish and water buffalo that lived in the marshes and exported the surplus to other parts of Iraq. The marshes began to decline in the 1950s as dam-building in Syria and Turkey attenuated the river flows, but the process accelerated dramatically in the 1990s after the Persian Gulf War, when Hussein built giant canals and drains nearby. Most believe Hussein drained the marshes to punish the Shiite Muslims who lived there for opposing his minority Sunni Muslim government. Human Rights Watch, a private monitoring group, estimates that the Marsh Arab population collapsed from more than 250,000 to perhaps 40,000 as they were driven elsewhere in Iraq, escaped to Iran or, in some cases, were killed by Hussein's regime. During that time, about 95 percent of the marshland itself became a crusty wasteland. "You've seen those dust storms as the troops moved north through southern Iraq?" said Suzie Alwash, a geologist who helped organize Eden Again, the group that hopes to lead the marsh-restoration effort. "That used to be the marshland. As U.S. forces crossed the bridge at Nasiriyah, they should have been surrounded by 10-foot-high reeds." Whether the project becomes a reality depends on how much funding and other assistance is mustered by the United States, other countries and the United Nations. But in a report to be released tomorrow, an advisory panel of academic and government experts -- convened by Eden Again and funded by a $200,000 grant from the State Department -- is expected to conclude that some restoration is feasible, if the political will can be found. During its discussions, the committee identified several technical problems to be avoided. Panel member Thomas L. Crisman, director of the University of Florida's Howard T. Odum Center for Wetlands, notes that "wetlands are not like coffee, where you can just add water. You have to add water in the right quantity, the right quality and the right timing." Because Hussein made data such as river flow rates a state secret, many questions will remain unanswered until scientists reach southern Iraq -- in June, if the current schedule holds. The samples they take will help determine which parts of the marshes are likeliest to recover, so that rehabilitation efforts can be triaged. For instance, Alwash said, some areas now have salt crusts two feet thick, due to rapid evaporation of brackish groundwater. If new flows of freshwater are not pumped through these areas at high enough rates, they will become lifeless salt ponds rather than new marshlands. In addition, some of the marsh areas were burned over, which may have left these soils too alkaline or acidic to be reclaimed. Another concern is contamination -- from industry, sewage, agriculture, military detritus and even deliberate poisonings by Hussein's government. Before particular areas are re-flooded, they must be tested for contaminants. If toxins are discovered, those areas can be remedied much more easily when still dry. The sediment beds hold the key to the marshes' recovery. They likely contain hardy seeds and nutrients that will become building blocks of new marshes. This legacy can be supplemented, if needed, by replanting reeds that have hung on in relatively untouched areas near the Iraq-Iran border. All told, Crisman said, recreating Iraq's marshes will be an even bigger challenge than restoring Florida's Everglades -- a multi-year federal project that aims to remove 500 miles of diversionary canals and levees. The key difference, Crisman said, is that the Everglades already has both a robust inflow of water and an agreed-upon plan to fix the mess. For now, Iraq has neither. This problem underscores how the marsh restoration project melds scientific challenges with political ones. Securing an adequate water supply for the project will depend on establishing consensus not only among competing interests in Iraq -- which includes such parties as nearby farmers and oil executives -- but also with officials in Syria and Turkey, whose dams still limit river flows into southern Iraq. The main constraining factor in this effort is the availability of water," said Hassan Partow, a research officer with the U.N. Environment Program, a Geneva-based arm of the United Nations that has urged restoration of the marshes since 2000. "The country and the region is in the grips of a water crisis, so it is a political question as well as a technical one that will determine the scale of the restoration." The U.N. agency, he said, plans to convene interested parties in Iraq to discuss the issue by the end of May. If such sticky issues can be solved -- and if contamination problems do not prove insurmountable -- then Crisman believes Iraq's marshes can be on the mend within two years. After five or six years, the reborn marshes could "approximate the look and function of a natural wetland." Eden Again isn't even venturing a guess of the price tag until scientists on the ground assess the potential scope of the project. Alwash said Iraq's low labor costs should keep costs much lower than equivalent projects in the developed world, and some aspects can probably be accomplished without building a lot of new infrastructure. The even bigger challenge, most project advisers agree, will be rehabilitating the Marsh Arab culture. Alwash says she expects many refugees and even some westernized Iraqi exiles to return to the marshes, but she adds that the know-how to build reed houses or catch seafood in the marshes can evaporate in less than a generation. "Never before have I been in a situation where the task involves restoring a culture at the same time as an ecosystem," Crisman said. "The scale of this is potentially mind-boggling."