Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Infrastructure in Morocco

Water infrastructure in Morocco
Photo 1: Sunset on El Wahda dam, Morocco. (Source: Jbdodane, Flickr)


By 2009, Morocco had 135 large dams (Figure 1) with a total capacity of 17,500 MCM. A further 100 small dams with a total capacity of nearly 100 MCM aim to meet local needs for drinking water, irrigation and livestock. There are 13 water transfer systems between watersheds.[1],[2]

However, the capacity loss of dams amounts to 70 MCM/yr. To reduce losses, the PNE recommends the construction of a total of 38 large and small dams by 2030 (Table 1) to store around 1,000 MCM/yr, excluding the 12 dams already under construction that aim to store 616 MCM/yr). In addition, it proposes reducing water losses in the present dams due to structural erosion by renovating nearly 110,000 ha upstream.[3] The siltation of dam reservoirs is estimated at nearly 75 MCM/yr for all the large dams, limiting the amount of water that can be mobilized.

Figure 1: Number of dams from 1950 to 2015. Source: National Water Strategy.

The National Water Strategy also suggests the construction of about 60 large dams by 2030 with a total capacity of about 7 BCM and an additional volume mobilized of 1.7 BCM as well as 1,000 small dams for local development,[4] the transfer of raw water resources from the north to the south (800 m3/yr) and the safeguarding of hydraulic infrastructures.[5]

Table 1: Main dams in Morocco.

Name of damRiverConstruction year Height (m)Capacity (MCM)
Sidi Said MaachouOum er-Rbia192929 2
Bin el-OuidaneEl-Abid1953133 1,484
Mohammed VMoulouya196764 725
Idriss 1°Inaouene197372 1,217
Sidi Mohamed Ben AbdellahBouregreg197499 509
Al-MassiraOum er-Rbia197982 2,760
Oued el-MakhazineLoukkos197967 807
AbdelmoumenIssen198194 216
Hassan 1°Lakhdar1986145 273
Neuf Avril 1947Hachef199552 300
Al WahdaOuergha199688 3,730
Hassan IIOued Za199883 275
AsfalouAsfalou1999112 317
Ahmed al-HansaliOum er-Rbia2001101 740
Sidi SaidMoulouya2003124 400

Irrigation systems

Irrigated agriculture depends mainly on dams and private irrigation. The irrigation type and systems in use in 2009 are shown in Table 2.[6]

Table 2: Irrigation systems in Morocco. Source: National Water Strategy.

Source of IrrigationGravitySprinkle Local TotalPercentage
Large dams533,900 113,80034,900 682,600 47%
Small and medium dams327,200 6,900 - 334,100 23%
Private irrigation317,60016,950106,900441,45030%
Total 1,178,700137,650141,8001,458,150100%

Sanitation and wastewater treatment network

As mentioned previously, 75% of the population is connected to the sewer network and 62% to wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs).[7] Since the 1950s, Morocco has introduced biotechnologies for wastewater treatment, including activated sludge, trickling filters and biodiscs. Activated sludge plants are not in regular operation due to a lack of maintenance and the high energy costs entailed.

Most of the plants built in the 1990s employ extensive technologies, such as stabilization ponds or natural lagoons, high-rate algal ponds and sand filters. In 1993, there were 55 WWTPs serving small- and medium-sized cities.[8] The treatment of sewage through stabilization ponds was recommended in the early 2000s, largely because of their low investment and operating costs. However, other treatment techniques such as activated sludge are preferred for larger cities, such as Marrakech and Fez, due to the large areas that are required for stabilization ponds.[9] By 2017, 123 WWTPs had been built, increasing the treatment capacity to 900 MCM/yr.[10] The distribution of WWTP technologies in Morocco is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Distribution of different wastewater treatment technologies. Source: Waterbiotech.

Traditional water collection and distribution systems

Khettaras (or qanats) are a succession of wells linked by underground canals that lead to fields (Figure 3). The canals should provide enough water for upstream palm groves while retaining enough for those downstream, according to tradition and the water rights prescribed by ancestral contracts. Artificial lakes are also created to store water for cattle and for use during water shortages.[11] Khettaras are constructed manually by a small group of skilled workers. With proper maintenance, khettaras enable self-sufficient agriculture based on palm and olive trees, as well as the cultivation of wheat, barley, maize, alfalfa, fruits and vegetables in enclosed gardens. Khettaras are more than an irrigation system, however, they embody the traditional social structure.

Water infrastructure in Morocco
Figure 3: Illustrative diagram of the traditional khettara irrigation system.

[1] Houzir M, Mokass M and Schalatek L, 2016. Climate Governance and the Role of Climate Finance in Morocco.
[2] FAO AQUASTAT, 2015. Morocco.
[3] Houzir M, Mokass M and Schalatek L, 2016. Climate Governance and the Role of Climate Finance in Morocco.
[4] Alaoui M, 2013. ‘Water sector in Morocco: situation and perspectives’. Journal of Water Resources and Ocean Science 2(5): 108-114.
[5] Government of Morocco, 2009. National Water Strategy.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Netherlands Enterprise Agency, 2018. Business Opportunities Report for Reuse of Wastewater in Morocco.
[8] Mandi L and Ouazzani N, 2013. ‘Water and wastewater management in Morocco: Biotechnologies application’. Waterbiotech.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Netherlands Enterprise Agency, 2018. Business Opportunities Report for Reuse of Wastewater in Morocco.
[11] Peroni L. The khettara water management ancient techniques promoted in Morocco.