Jordan Groundwater and irrigation

[25-11-2021 12:59 AM]

BY Dr Osama Gazal

His Majesty speech: “Our water situation is a strategic challenge which can not be ignored, and we have to make balance between the domestic, industrial and agricultural needs, while keeping the domestic water issue the fundamental and most important.”
King Abdullah II Ibn Al-Hussein

Currently, in Jordan groundwater resources cover 44 % of the irrigation requirements and more than 58 % of the country’s water requirements (Figure 1). The percentage of the water used in agriculture to the total water uses in 2019 was 51 % while it was above 70 % at the beginning of the nineties (Gazal & Eslamian 2021). This is due to the agricultural policies, increasing the profitability and efficiency of the irrigation methods to cope with the water scarcity in Jordan. Besides, groundwater is, in fact, the world's largest extracted natural material. This increase is significant in arid areas where groundwater can be the only available drinking water resource (Gazal 2021). Low-efficiency water resource use in dry areas exacerbates the problem of losing these resources, while several factors contribute to the deterioration of groundwater aquifers, which is exacerbated by drought and climate change impacts affecting arid and semi-arid areas and endangering groundwater resources (Gazal 2021).

The agricultural sector has changed significantly for the worse. While Jordan depended on covering its basic cereals needs from producing its grains and others agricultural products, it became an importer. The agricultural situation in Jordan before the fifties, and how agricultural production exceeded the internal needs explained in the Ministry of Agriculture reports Archives and the agricultural situation during the period 1929-1950 (Gazal & Eslamian 2021). It retreated heavily and Jordan became dependent on imports to meet its grain needs, while vegetables agricultural investments and fruits plus olives trees in the desert regions flourished, relying on groundwater and prospered significantly in the 1980s and reached the maximum flourishing in the 1990s as it’s called the “Super Green Revolution” and groundwater has been a cornerstone of this revolution (Gazal 2021). While due to population increase, agricultural expansion and changing the lifestyle, this increase has caused an irreversible depletion of the renewable groundwater aquifers, especially the karstic groundwater aquifers. The actual abstraction is far away beyond the safe yield of the renewable aquifers in all the groundwater basins. The total safe yield amount not more than 418 MCM while the abstraction reached 641 MCM the over-abstraction causes a deficit of about 222 MCM (Table 1). The gap between supply and demand has been widening mainly due to rapid population growth, rising living standards, and agricultural expansion.

The deficit between water supply and demand in MCM/year (with over-abstraction) was estimated at -409 on 2015, increased to -384 in 2019, and it is projected to reach -88 MCM by 2025. This by supposing the successes of developing unconventional water supplies and rising water harvesting projects, plus the most important water desalination project in Jordan (Red Dead Canal project), which makes the 2025 forecasted very positive (Figure 2). Following the problems of implementing the Red Dead Canal project, the Water Desalination and Transmission Project Aqaba-Amman (National Carrier) has recently become the country's key strategic water project. The first phase of the "National Carrier" project to desalinate Red Sea water from the city of Aqaba in the south and convey it to the governorates of the Kingdom in the north will cost one billion dollars in its first phase and is expected to produce between 250 and 300 million cubic meters of drinking water.

As a result, the following are some feasible proposals for agricultural activities in Jordan considering Jordan's limited water resources and serious water situation by (Gazal 2021):
• To avoid the expansion of intensive irrigated activities in the most vulnerable areas to contamination and groundwater level drawdown, update land use policy with a representative groundwater vulnerability map.
• Increasing funding and research in the field of rain-fed agriculture, promoting drought-resistant crops (water-stress-tolerant crops), and increasing water use profitability by reducing the areas planted with crops that require a lot of water.
• Partly depends on rainfed by developing an irrigation technique rely on the regulated deficit irrigation (RDI) where the deficit irrigation (DI) is aimed at maximizing economic crop production when water is scarce.
• Hydroponic, which is a recommended option in terms of water use efficiency and protecting groundwater aquifers from contamination.
• Conduct government-sponsored pilot projects to show the farmers the benefits of the science-based technologies, whether by changing patterns of crops or investing in solar and wind energy.
• Ultimately, seawater and/or brackish groundwater desalination is the future solution to Jordan's water resource crises and the sustainability of development in all sectors in one of the Middle East's promised economic developing countries.

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