Sustainable Water Management and River Rehabilitation in Jordan Valley

jordan-riverIn the context of EcoPeace Middle East's recently released Regional Integrated NGO Master Plan, the key challenge in sustainable water management is to overcome the water scarcity related problems  in the Jordan Valley. This means creating a sustainable water supply system that meets the current and future domestic and agricultural water demands; and at the same time preserves the water resources for future generations and for the environment. This requires an Integrated Water Resources Management regime for the whole (Lower) Jordan River, based on international co-operation among Israel, Jordan and Palestine, supported with adequate water management tools (like WEAP) to ensure sustainable water supply and an increase of the baseflow and rehabilitation of the ecological values of the Jordan River.

One of the related key challenges is to achieve full treatment of wastewater generated in the study area and full reuse for agricultural purposes. This will both reduce public health related risks and strengthen the agricultural sector. This requires development of a detailed technical and financial plan, including designs and tender documents, for full scale collection, treatment and reuse of the locally generated wastewater flows, including domestic, industrial (mainly oliveoil wastewater in Jordan) and manure management.

Another key challenge is to restore the function of the lower part of the Jordan River as a natural river and water conveyor in the valley for supply purposes, by keeping its flow as long as possible in the river. Rehabilitating the river will include actions in terms of realizing at least one minor flood (c.a. 20-50 m3/sec) per year. In order to bring back the original habitats of the river, also the flow bed of the river are to be widened to about 50-70 m in the north and at least 30 m in the south, with flood plains on both sides.

The salinity of the Jordan River has a natural tendency to increase downstream. This is caused by natural drainage of brackish groundwater into the river, particularly in the southern part of the valley near the Dead Sea. The key challenge is to prevent any inflow of salt or brackish surface water into the river above the point where the river would still be fresh, i.e. above the confluent with Wadi Qelt. This implies bypassing the salt water from the Israeli Saline Water Carrier (SWC), the brackish water from the Israeli Fish Ponds, and the brine from the Abu Zeighan desalination plant to a new outflow located south of the river’s confluent with Wadi Qelt, close to the Dead Sea. If this will be done, the river will be able to provide water of good quality for different user functions. In terms of chloride concentrations this means a maximum of 400 mg/l for drinking water purposes; 600 mg/l for fresh water irrigation; and 1500 mg/l for irrigation of date palms.

An olive oil mill in Jordan

An olive oil mill in Jordan

Another key challenge is to maintain total agricultural water demands at the same level as today, with the exception of Palestine which is currently heavily underdeveloped in terms of agriculture. To achieve a sustainable water balance within the valley and sufficient flows in the river it will furthermore be required that around 2020 Israel will largely cease pumping water to the extent possible out of the valley from the Sea of Galilee through the National Water Carrier (NWC), meanwhile maintaining its present agricultural water consumption within the valley; that the Sea of Galilee will be kept on a medium water level between the top and bottom red lines ("green line" as defined by the Israeli Water Authority); and that by 2050 Jordan will stop diverting water from the Yarmouk and other tributaries to the Kind Abdullah Canal (KAC) to the extent possible, and instead will use the Jordan River as main conveyor for its irrigation supply purposes. In addition, by 2050 Palestine would also use the Jordan River as its main water conveyor, meaning that the planned development of the West Ghor Canal will not be built.

These challenges require a series of related interventions, including adequate water data monitoring and modeling; promotion of water saving and water demand management measures in all sectors; provision of related training and institutional strengthening support services; improved regulations and enforcement on groundwater abstractions to stop groundwater depletion and salination; and implementation of efficient water pricing policies and related enforcement.

In terms of water governance, the challenge will be to strengthen the authorities, including JVA, PWA, in their role as regulator of the water sector in the Jordan Valley. This includes skills with regard to water data collection and management; water resources planning; efficient operations of the water storage and supply system; and strengthening the co-operation with the local water user associations. It also includes monitoring, regulations and enforcement of surface water and groundwater abstractions; protection of sensitive shallow aquifers, efficient tariff policies, and monitoring reduction of agricultural pollution loads.

Note: This is the second article in our special series on 'Regional Integrated NGO Master Plan for the Jordan Valley'. 

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About EcoPeace Middle East

EcoPeace Middle East is a unique organization that brings together Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli environmentalists. Our primary objective is the promotion of cooperative efforts to protect our shared environmental heritage. In so doing, we seek to advance both sustainable regional development and the creation of necessary conditions for lasting peace in our region. EcoPeace has offices in Amman, Bethlehem, and Tel-Aviv. EcoPeace is a project oriented NGO, using both a “top-down” (advocacy) approach coupled with a “bottom-up” (grass roots / community) strategy that has proven to be a very effective work model.
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