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Atlas of Jordan

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Myriam Ababsa

Chapter ten - Jordan Mega Projects for Water, Energy and Transportation

A Brief History of Water Use in Jordan

Jean-Philippe Venot, Rémy Courcier et François Molle

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1Broad economic development and high demographic growth during the second half of the 20th century have put increasing pressure on Jordan water resources. Per capita water availability is very low and a water crisis is looming. The lower Jordan river basin (see figure) is the most populated and economically active region of the county and is endowed with 80% of its water resources (Courcier et al., 2005). Around the year 2000, nearly all available water in the basin was used: this chapter sketches the history of water availability and use in the lower Jordan river basin since the creation of Jordan.

The early stages of river basin development: situation prior to 1950s

2Figure X.2 illustrates the situation of water availability and uses in the lower Jordan river basin before the creation of Israel critically changed the situation. Agriculture was dominated by the traditional agriculture-cum-livestock model of the nomadic Bedouins.

  • Cities are still small and essentially supplied by neighboring springs.

  • Surface water coming from the Yarmouk river, the side-wadis and the Jordan river itself allows the irrigation of small areas located along these rivers (around 13,000 ha using 125 Mm3/yr) and in the alluvial fans of the valleys.

  • No significant groundwater exploitation is observed.

Figure X.2 — Water resources development in the Lower Jordan River Basin around 1950.

Figure X.2 — Water resources development in the Lower Jordan River Basin around 1950.

The exploitation phase: situation in the mid 1970s

3In 1977, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation published, in collaboration with the German Cooperation, a global assessment of water resources in Jordan (THKJ, 1977). This allows identifying the main changes that occurred since the 1950s:

  • Israel has been diverting about 440 Mm3/yr from the Lake Tiberius through its National Water Carrier (NWC) to cities along its Mediterranean coast and to some irrigated schemes down to the Negev desert, southwest of the Dead Sea. This virtually blocked the inflow from the Upper Jordan: the outflow from Lake Tiberius decreased from 605 to 65 Mm3/yr, reaching the LJRB only during winter flood flows (fig. X.3).

  • In addition, to preserve the quality of Lake Tiberius water, mainly used as a reservoir of potable water, Israel diverted saline springs from the north of the lake to the Lower Jordan river downstream of the lake. At the same time, Israelis pumped water from the Yarmouk in order to fill the lake as well as to serve nearby irrigated schemes.

  • The Jordan Valley witnessed a rapid development of irrigation with the construction of the King Abdullah Canal (KAC) between 1958 and 1966. Thousands of small intensive farms were created and produced fruits and vegetables to supply growing cities while a substantial surplus was exported all around the Middle East. In the northern and middle parts of the Jordan valley, 13,500 hectares (ha) were irrigated with 115 Mm3/yr. In the south, water from several side-wadis and pumping from the aquifers allowed the irrigation of around 4,200 hectares with 55 Mm3/yr. In the highlands, the development of irrigated agriculture (over 5,900 ha) was accompanied by increasing groundwater exploitation (70 Mm3/yr) while traditional agriculture remained the rule along the side-wadis and the Zarqa river valleys.

  • The period is also characterized by the strong development of urban areas such as Amman-Zarqa, and Irbid, which then used 30 Mm3/yr of groundwater. The first water transfers from the Azraq Oasis, in the east of the country, have been implemented.

  • At the same time, Syria also started to use the water of the upper Yarmouk river, mainly for agricultural purposes (90 Mm3/yr [Hof, 1998]), ultimately reducing the flow of the Lower Yarmouk to the Jordan river to 380 Mm3/yr.

  • Most water use is ‘on-stream diversion’ and there are no major reservoirs on the main tributaries of the Lower Jordan river. Only one-third (505 Mm3/yr) of the historical flow of the Jordan river still reaches the Dead Sea.

Figure X.3 — Water resources and uses in the Lower Jordan River Basin around 1975.

Figure X.3 — Water resources and uses in the Lower Jordan River Basin around 1975.

Growing scarcity problems: Situation in the early 2000s

4The exploitation of water resources increased sharply between 1975 and 1995 but little change was apparent in the way water resources were managed: until the mid 1990s, water was largely considered as a “sleeping resource” to be found and used by ever-effective and efficient new techniques. The mid 1990s marked a turning point with awareness of a ‘water crisis’ developing among the users. Facing evidence of growing water scarcity, the government of Jordan tried to reorient its approach to water resources management through the publication of a Water Strategy Policy (1995) and other sectoral policies; the creation of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation; several measures aimed at reducing agricultural water use and improving the management of urban water supply (see Courcier et al., 2005 for more details). Figure X.4 shows the main modifications that occurred between the mid-1970s and the early 2000s:

  • Increasing Syrian water use in the upper Yarmouk basin (200 Mm3/yr) led to lower flows from the Yarmouk river to the Lower Jordan river basin: the Yarmouk flow, before its partial diversion into the KAC and to Israel, reaches 270 Mm3/yr of which about 110 Mm3/yr flow uncontrolled to Dead Sea (total uncontrolled flows to the Dead Sea are as low as 315 Mm3/yr [Courcier et al., 2005])

  • In 1994, Jordan and Israel signed a Peace Treaty, defining the sharing of common water resources and allocation of water from both the Yarmouk and the Lake Tiberius (see Beaumont, 1997 for further details).

  • Irrigation expanded in the south of the Jordan valley through an extension of the KAC and the use of blended freshwater/wastewater (50 Mm3/yr in the first year of the 21st century, this volume is increasing each year). The construction of an underground pressurized irrigation network allowed optimizing the efficiency and control of water in irrigated farms of the Jordan valley.

  • Building of dams on the Zarqa river and other side-wadis for irrigation purposes. Little water still reaches the Jordan river in winter.

  • Total groundwater abstraction reached 275 Mm3/yr (that is 120 Mm3/yr in excess of the annual recharge of the aquifers). A bit less than half of this amount is used to irrigate 15,000 ha in the highlands of the basin. Most groundwater (150 Mm3/yr) is used to meet the urban water demand of the main cities of Jordan (some of it comes -20 Mm3/yr, comes from outer basins).

  • Since the beginning of the 1990s, pumping stations transfer freshwater from the Jordan valley to Amman (50 Mm3/yr 2000; nearly 100 Mm3/yr 10 years later).

Figure X.4 — Water resources and uses in the Lower Jordan River Basin around 2000.

Figure X.4 — Water resources and uses in the Lower Jordan River Basin around 2000.

Expected evolutions at the horizon 2025

5Several investment and reform projects have been floated in order to meet the increasing water demand of the country for the next 25 years. Figure X.5 is a projection of water availability and use in the lower Jordan river basin at the horizon 2025 considering projects that are already implemented or under way:

  • The construction of the last reservoirs including the Wehdah Dam on the Yarmouk river and the Mujib dam on the eponymous side-wadi (both completed in 2007). This will lead to further decrease in the flows reaching the Dead Sea, thus raising environmental issues.

  • The development of long-distance interbasin transfers to meet the growing urban water demand. They include transfers from the Dead Sea basin and from the DISI aquifer (see the related chapter) in the south of the country. In our projections, we consider that transfers from the Azraq oasis will stop due to acute environment problems.

  • Increasing use of brackish and desalinated water for agriculture purposes in the Jordan valley (desalinization plants in Deir-Alla‘ and Zara-Man).

  • Expansion of treated waste water use in irrigated agriculture both in the Jordan valley and in the highlands due to increasing urban water consumption and waste water production. Environmental and health issues related to low-quality water use for fruits and vegetables production need to be taken in hand.

  • Reduction of agricultural groundwater use in the highlands of the lower Jordan river basin. However, profitable orchards will continue to use substantial amounts of groundwater abstractions and they are unlikely to come close to sustainable extraction rates.

  • The Red Sea-Dead Sea project that is intended to stabilize the Dead Sea level and to supply desalinated drinking water to the main cities of Jordan, Palestine and Israel.

Figure X.5 — Water resources and uses in the Lower Jordan River Basin around 2025.

Figure X.5 — Water resources and uses in the Lower Jordan River Basin around 2025.

 

6The four graphs presented here clearly illustrate the increasing complexity of water management in Jordan. All water resources in the lower Jordan river basin are committed to existing users: the basin is said to be “closed” (Falkenmark and Molden, 2008) and all users are increasingly interdependent, through a complex web of natural flows, diversions and return flows. Increasing interdependence of water users requires an integrated approach to water resources with supply augmentation, demand management and water allocations policies being pursued together (Venot et al., 2008).

Jordan Valley.

Jordan Valley.

Th. Fournet

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure X.2 — Water resources development in the Lower Jordan River Basin around 1950.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/5054/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 268k
Titre Figure X.3 — Water resources and uses in the Lower Jordan River Basin around 1975.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/5054/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 348k
Titre Figure X.4 — Water resources and uses in the Lower Jordan River Basin around 2000.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/5054/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 440k
Titre Figure X.5 — Water resources and uses in the Lower Jordan River Basin around 2025.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/5054/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 448k
Titre Jordan Valley.
Crédits Th. Fournet
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/5054/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 46k

© Presses de l’Ifpo, 2013

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