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Water Resources

Countryside near Salt, Jordan. Photo: issagm

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

In 2013, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MWI) estimated annual water availability at 892 million cubic metres (MCM). Figure 7 shows that about 79% of this is from renewable freshwater sources, including about 239 MCM or 28% from surface water (of which 50 MCM comes from Israel under the 1994 peace treaty agreement) and about 433 MCM or 51% from renewable groundwater. The remaining amount comes from non-renewable aquifer (fossil) groundwater (about 75 MCM or 9%) and treated wastewater (about 102 MCM or 12%).[1]

Figure 7. Estimated available water resources in Jordan, 2013. Source: MWI.
Figure 7. Estimated available water resources in Jordan, 2013. Source: MWI.

The Dead Sea, Jordan. Photo: Gusjer.
The Dead Sea, Jordan. Photo: Gusjer.

Non-conventional resources

Treated wastewater is becoming an increasingly important resource, contributing around 12% to the national water budget in 2013.[2] Around three quarters of this water is used in the agricultural sector: more than 75% of the approximately 102 MCM of treated wastewater produced in 2013 was used for agricultural purposes.[3]

Most of the treated wastewater is released from treatment plants near the major population centres (and major wastewater sources) in the centre of the country, into watercourses on the ridge of the Jordan Valley, where it flows into the valley for use in irrigation (Fig. 10).

The country currently uses about 55 MCM of its treated wastewater for restricted irrigation purposes, meaning it can only be applied to certain crops. The government plans to increase the use of treated wastewater for irrigation to 232 MCM/yr by 2020, mostly in the Jordan Valley.[4]

The amount of wastewater has increased over the years, mainly due to the significant increase in population (including refugees). This has resulted in the existing wastewater treatment plants being used beyond their original design capacity, which has in turn caused the quality of treated wastewater to drop. As a result of this reduced quality, the treated wastewater cannot be fully exploited to progressively replace the freshwater resources in all agricultural uses.[5]

Additional stresses on wastewater treatment and use include the illegal dumping of raw sewage from refugee camps directly into the treatment plant inflows, as well as illegal extraction of treated wastewater downstream of the al-Samra treatment plant. The wastewater from this plant flows down the Zarqa River until it reaches the King Talal Reservoir, where it is mixed with fresh water before being released downstream to the Jordan Valley.

Farmers along this section of the Zarqa River have traditionally used water for irrigation from the river, 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 those who consume them.

The increase in the number of refugees, including the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq who live in refugee camps, has of course led to a sharp increase in the amount of wastewater, including the waste from toilets, which is collected in open ponds. When the ponds are full, the solids are taken by truck and illegally dumped upstream of the wastewater treatment plants. As refugee camps are a long-term reality in Jordan, it is important to develop a sustainable wastewater management strategy in order to maintain the quality of wastewater treatment.

Figure 8. Location of wastewater treatment plants in Jordan. Source: Fanack after MWI.
Figure 8. Location of wastewater treatment plants in Jordan. Source: Fanack after MWI.

[1] Ministry of Water and Irrigation, 2015. Personal interview.
[2] Yorke, V., 2013. ‘Politics matter: Jordan’s path to water security lies through political reforms and regional cooperation’. NCCR Trade Regulation, Working paper 2013/19.
[3] Ghneim, A., 2011. Wastewater Reuse and Management in the Middle East and North Africa: A Case Study of Jordan. MSc Dissertation. Published by Universitätsverlag der TU Berlin.
[4] Ministry of Water and Irrigation, 2015. Personal interview.
[5] Mohsen, M.S., 2007. ‘Water strategies and potential of desalination in Jordan’. Desalination, 203: 27-46.