May 13, 2009

Jordan-USAID Wastewater Reclamation
Al-Beidha, Jordan

Not long after our arrival we were joined at the home by our CouchSurfing host, Talal, who pulled up in a worn white Toyota pickup. Tall and thin, the 29-year-old again welcomed us and made sure we were wanting for naught.

Unsure what to do with the rest of the afternoon, Talal asked if we'd like to join him for a quick ride down the road. Naturally, we accepted.

Green Desert

Following the freshly paved road just a few moments north of our village, we turned a corner encountered an unexpected color: Green.

A strong contrast to the surrounding arid mountain/desert landscape, fields of growing crops flanked the sides of the roadway—cushioning it from the dry nothingness beyond the irrigation lines.

Talal parked the pickup on a small hill and motioned for us to get out. Near a small hut that seemed far older than the sum of our ages, Aidric ran amok while Talal did his best to explain how USAID was turning sewage into water for crops.

Jordan is in the top ten of most water-deprived countries in the world, with an inhospitable climate and a shortage in surface water places.

The project Talal introduced us to pulls in the Petra Regional Wastewater Treatment plant effluent, using treated wastewater on a variety of agricultural crops with several different irrigation methods. The farm grows field crops such as alfalfa, corn, sunflowers and Sudan grass, tree crops including pistachio, almond, olives, date palms, lemons, poplars, spruce and junipers, and many varieties of ornamental flowers including iris, geraniums, petunias and daisies.

Wastewater Reuse in Jordan: A USAID Initiative

Jordan shares the rivers providing much of its water with Israel and Syria, and over the years conflicts have emerged over use of the water. Available yearly per capita share of fresh water in Jordan is among the lowest in the world, estimated at about 160 cubic meters (42,000 US gallons). This share is continuously decreasing and is forecasted to go down to 90 cubic meters (24,000 gallons) by 2020.

Whereas the average U.S. citizen has more than 9,000 cubic meters (2.3 million gallons) of fresh water available per year, the average Jordanian has less than 200—a 45-fold difference.

Jordan has worked to manage irrigation with wastewater for several decades. Since the early 1980s the general approach has been to treat the wastewater and either discharge it to the environment where it mixes with freshwater flows and is indirectly reused downstream, or to use the resulting effluent to irrigate restricted, relatively low-value crops. Given the diminishing per capita freshwater supply, the increasing dominance of sewage in the water balance, the overloading of wastewater treatment plants, local riparian water rights, and the need to protect domestic and export produce markets, effectively managing water reuse, including enforcement of existing regulations, has become increasingly challenging.

Three pilot farms were planted and irrigated with reclaimed water. Close monitoring has revealed no health hazards. All revenues from the pilot sites have been used to help the needy as well as fund future equipment and seed needs.

Wadi Musa pilot project: Water re-use demonstration farm

With high unemployment rates, few sources of income resulting in deteriorating standards of living, the poverty indicator measured at about 44% in the Ma'an Governorate, including the Wadi Musa valley. Agriculture is a vital source of income for the majority of households in Wadi Musa, which totaled about 12,535 persons within 2,233 families, with an average age of 18 years.

To protect the environment around Petra, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and to ensure enough water for tourists, the local population and regional farmers, a new water and wastewater treatment facility was necessary. USAID joined forces with other donors and the Jordanian government to design and build the wastewater treatment facility.

USAID contributed $28 million of the total $45 million cost of the project. Today, it benefits 17,000 residents, up to 3,000 tourists a day, the tourism sector as a whole and the natural environment of Petra. Furthermore, the high-quality treated wastewater coming out of the treatment plant is being used to irrigate a nearby model farm to demonstrate the safe and effective use of reclaimed water in irrigating high-value crops of environmental and phytosanitary suitability.

Jordanian farmers in Wadi Musa, near the historic city of Petra, were the first in the area to receive leases to irrigate with treated wastewater. These farmers are directly benefiting from the pilot demonstration farm, to show that reclaimed water can provide safe and reliable irrigation for some types of agriculture.

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