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Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Resources in Jordan

The Dead Sea - Water resources in Jordan
Photo 1: Dead Sea at sunset, Jordan. (Credit: Ruben Vermeer)

Most of the major water resources in Jordan are shared with neighbouring countries, leading to additional challenges as water scarcity increases.

In 2017, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MWI) estimated annual water availability at 1,054 million cubic metres (MCM). Of these, 288 MCM come from surface resources, 619 MCM from groundwater and 147 MCM from treated wastewater.[1]

Surface water

Surface water in Jordan contributes about 28% of the total water supply. Surface water resources provided 288 MCM of water in 2017.[2] The country’s three main rivers, the Jordan, Yarmouk and Zarqa, are a major part of the country’s surface water system. However, the available water supply from each has become highly unreliable. Upstream diversion and over-pumping in Syria (Yarmouk River, its tributaries and groundwater resources from the same basin) and Israel (Jordan River) directly affect water availability in Jordan.[3]

In the 1930s, one of the main water resources was the Jordan River, with a flow of 1.3 billion cubic metres per year (BCM/yr).[4] However, diversions of the river and its tributaries, including Israel’s construction of the National Water Carrier in 1953 and water diversion from Lake Tiberias to Israel’s coastal plains and southern desert, resulted in the flow of the Lower Jordan River dropping significantly. The 50 MCM/yr that Israel provides from Lake Tiberias as part of the 1994 peace treaty was meant to compensate Jordan for this loss. However, a 2010 study found that the Lower Jordan River has been reduced to 2% of its historic flow.[5] Water quality has also deteriorated sharply, with high levels of salinity and pollution from agricultural fertilizer and untreated wastewater upstream in Israel and the West Bank.

Surface water in Jordan - water resources in Jordan
Map 1: Surface water basins in Jordan. @Fanack water

While the water of the Yarmouk River is deemed to be of good quality, Jordan is challenged by the transboundary nature of the river, which in the north is shared with Syria, and constrained by the amounts agreed to in the 1987 bilateral treaty.[6] The shortcoming of the treaty is that it only considers surface water resources and not the groundwater resources that are connected to the rivers.[7] Due to Syrian overexploitation of groundwater resources, the flow of the river reaching the Jordanian side of the border and filling the Wahda Dam is much lower than expected. The Jordanian government is considering renegotiating the treaty for this reason and because the Yarmouk River accounts for 40% of Jordanian surface water resources. The Yarmouk is also an important source of water for the King Abdullah Canal, used in the Jordan Valley for irrigation purposes.

The Zarqa River, though completely within Jordanian borders, has experienced decreasing water quality due to industrial and domestic abstractions and discharges. This is a result of its location within Jordan’s main industrial area, which also accommodates around 70% of the country’s small- to medium-sized industries. Few if any of these industries have plans to treat contaminated wastewater before it is dumped in the river.[8] At the same time, about 50% of the river’s flow comes from the Samra wastewater treatment plant.[9] Nevertheless, it still provides around 60 MCM/yr for the King Talal Dam, which is one of the major dams in the country.

Groundwater

Given the issues discussed above regarding the amount, reliability and quality of surface water sources, the Jordanian population relies mainly on groundwater for its domestic water supply. However, the groundwater supply is also insufficient to satisfy growing domestic demand, mainly because farmers also use this groundwater to irrigate their crops, and the domestic and agricultural sector are competing for the same resource. In 2017, the agricultural sector consumed about 45% of the country’s water resources.[10]

Groundwater (renewable and non-renewable) accounts for about 60% of the annual water budget, or about 618 MCM/yr.[11]

There are two main types of groundwater resources: renewable and non-renewable (fossil) resources. Renewable groundwater aquifers can be recharged by natural and artificial recharge.

Rainfall, surface water and irrigation are natural sources of recharge, while processed fresh water (through leakages in delivery systems) or treated wastewater fall under artificial resources.[12]

Twelve groundwater basins have been identified in Jordan (Map 2).[13] It has been estimated that the safe yield that allows for recharge of the groundwater supplies of renewable groundwater resources across the country is about 275 MCM/yr.[14]

Moreover, the groundwater resources are both within Jordan’s borders as well as shared with neighbouring countries, as discussed below. This is, for instance, the case for the Disi and Yarmouk aquifer. The shared resources’ flow comes from the upstream countries. Over the past decades, this flow has been decreasing for several reasons, including climate change impacts on recharge, illegal use and changing consumption patterns.

Groundwater in Jordan - Water resources in Jordan

Map 2: Annual safe yield of groundwater basins in Jordan in MCM. Source: Fanack after Altz-Stamm, 2012.

Non-conventional resources

Treated wastewater is becoming an increasingly important resource, contributing around 18% to the national water budget.[15] Most of this water is used in the agricultural sector. In 2017, this amounted to 144 MCM out of 147 MCM. This amount is forecasted to increase to 411 MCM in 2035.

Most of the treated wastewater is released from treatment plants near the major population centres (and major wastewater sources) in the middle of the country, into watercourses on the ridge of the Jordan Valley, where it flows into the valley for use in irrigation (Map 3 and Table 1).

The amount of wastewater has increased over the years, mainly due to the significant population increase (including refugees).[16] This has resulted in the existing wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) being used beyond their original design capacity.

Farmers along this section of the Zarqa River have traditionally used water from the river for irrigation, and many refuse to comply with government regulations that forbid such extraction. These regulations were put in place when the water treatment facility was built to prevent farmers from using the treated wastewater on their crops before it was diluted. Crops irrigated with this partially treated wastewater pose a health risk to consumers.

The increase in the number of refugees, including those who live in refugee camps, has led to a sharp increase in the amount of wastewater, including from toilets. As refugee camps are a long-term reality in Jordan, a sustainable wastewater management strategy is essential to ensure the quality of wastewater treatment.

Wastewater treatments plants in Jordan - Water resources in Jordan
Map 3: Location of wastewater treatment plants in Jordan. @Fanack water

Table 1. Wastewater treatment plants in Jordan in 2017. Source: MWI[17].

WWTP nameStatus of upgradeDesign capacity m3/dDaily influent m3/dTechnologyOperation yearBOD
Aqaba-Natural9,0007,066Waste stab ponds1987900
Aqaba-Mechanical12,00012,719Activated sludge2005420
Aqaba-Mechanical NewUnder construction28,000Activated sludgeUnder construction400
BaqaaUnder study and design14,90014,563Trickling filter1987800
Fuheis-MahesActivated sludge2,4002,928Activated sludge1997995
Irbid CentreTo activated sludge13,3508,272Activated sludge1987800
Jerash (East)Under development9,500Activated sludge19831,200
Meyrad10,0004,397Activated sludge2011800
karakUnder development and construction5,5001,321Activated sludge1988800
KufranjaTo activated sludge9,0003,497Activated sludge1989850
MadabaTo mechanical7,6007,388Activated sludge1989950
mafraqTo mechanical5,5003,731Oxidation sludge2017825
MaanTo mechanical7,0002,324Activated sludge1989700
Abu Naseir4,0003,385Activated sludge19851,100
RamthaTo mechanical5,4004,268Activated sludge19871,00
SaltUnder study and design (capacity 7,600 m3/d)2,5008,086Activated sludge19811,090
TaflaUnder development and construction (capacity 5,00 m3/d to 2025) (capacity 7,500 m3/d to 2035)1,6001,945Trickling filter + Activated sludge19881,060
Wadi Arab20,80012,683Activated sludge1999582
Wadi Hassan1,6001,262Activated sludge2001800
Wadi Mousa3,4002,832Activated sludge2000500
Wadi EsseirUnder development and construction17,0005,040Oxidation sludge1997670
Ekedar4,0002,087Waste stab ponds20051,500
lajoonFrom waste stab ponds to oxidation sludge1,200712Waste stab ponds20051,500
Tal Mantah400383Trickling filter + Activated sludge20052,000
Jiza4,000895Activated sludge2008898
Shobak350153Waste stab ponds20101,136
SamraTo mechanical360,000344,548.5Activated sludge1984 old - 2008 new600
Mansorah5020Waste stab ponds2010
South Amman52,00013,517.5Activated sludge2015750
Wadi Shallaleh13,7508,421Activated sludge2014762
Mutah-Mazar-Adnaniyyah7,0601,369Activated sludge2014673
North Shouna1,200655Waste stab ponds20151,850
Zaatari Camp3,5001,468MBR+TF20151,130
Azraq Camp1,7600MBR+TF1,500
Total639,320137387.5

[1] MWI (Ministry of Water and Irrigation), 2017. ‘Jordan Water Sector Facts and Figures 2017’.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Hussein, H, 2017. ‘Whose ‘reality’? Discourses and hydropolitics along the Yarmouk River.’ Contemporary Levant 2(2): 103-115; Zeitoun, M et al., 2019. ‘The Yarmouk tributary to the Jordan River I: Agreements impeding equitable transboundary water arrangements.’ Water Alternatives 12(3): 1064-1094.
[4] Gafny, S et al., 2010. ‘Towards a Living Jordan River.’ An Environmental Flows Report on the Rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan River.
[5] Bromberg, G, 2008. ‘Will the Jordan River Keep on Flowing?’ Yale Environment 360.
[6] Hussein, H, 2017. ‘Whose ‘reality’? Discourses and hydropolitics along the Yarmouk River.’ Contemporary Levant 2(2): 103-115.
[7] Zeitoun, M et al., 2019. ‘The Yarmouk tributary to the Jordan River I: Agreements impeding equitable transboundary water arrangements.’ Water Alternatives 12(3): 1064-1094; Hussein, H, 2017. ‘Whose ‘reality’? Discourses and hydropolitics along the Yarmouk River.’ Contemporary Levant 2(2): 103-115.
[8] Mohsen, MS, 2007. ‘Water strategies and potential of desalination in Jordan’. Desalination 203: 27-46.
[9] Abu-Sharar, TM et al., 2003. ‘The use of treated sewage for irrigation in Jordan: Opportunities and constraints.’ Water and Environment Journal 17(4): 232-238.
[10] MWI (Ministry of Water and Irrigation), 2017. ‘Jordan Water Sector Facts and Figures 2017’.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ghneim, A, 2010. ‘Wastewater Reuse and Management in the Middle East and North Africa: A Case Study of Jordan.’ MSc Dissertation. Published by Universitätsverlag der TU Berlin.
[13] Ibid.
[14] MWI (Ministry of Water and Irrigation), 2017. ‘Jordan Water Sector Facts and Figures 2017’.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Namrouqa, H, 2018. ‘Government seeks to expand As-Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant, citing population growth concerns.’ The Jordan Times.
[17] MWI (Ministry of Water and Irrigation), 2017. ‘Jordan Water Sector Facts and Figures 2017’.