Water Management in Morocco Will Protect Future Resources ( Adapted from the 1999 Foreign Exchange, Chemonics' Internati

Published December 5th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Although Morocco is blessed with more water resources than other countries in North Africa, its watersheds are threatened by pollution from industrial waste, agricultural runoff, and untreated wastewater.  


Periodic drought and a rapidly growing population could cause significant water shortages in the next decade.  


To help the country conserve water, Chemonics International Inc.has introduced technologies that will help Morocco improve its agricultural irrigation and overall water management. Chemonics' International Inc.integrated strategy also involves people and policies -- for example, it's working to reform regulations and modernize rates so governments and users will perceive water as the valuable commodity it is.  


Time-Tested Techniques in Tadla: 

In a 100,000-hectare area southeast of Casablanca known as the Tadla irrigated perimeter, Chemonics International Inc. -- through the USAID-funded Tadla Resources Management project -- has brought proven irrigation and pest-control techniques to 27,000 farmers, allowing them to produce more crops, create less pollution, control pests more effectively, and manage their water resources more efficiently.  


The company is also helping ORMVAT, the regional government office for irrigation perimeters, provide and manage water more efficiently.  


"We've introduced some 13 technologies over the course of this project," explains Phil Roark, Chemonics International Inc. project supervisor, “ranging from assistance with new agricultural equipment to computer modeling and environmental monitoring. Perhaps the most significant technology is laser leveling, which makes fields perfectly flat.  


This has resulted in water savings of 20 percent, yield increases of 30 percent, and a rise in productivity. We're working to make all suitable fields in Tadla level, to spread these savings throughout the region."  


Chemonics International Inc. has also helped devise management systems for decentralizing irrigation oversight from the government to local farmer associations.  


"Farmers had always depended on the government to manage water," Roark explains. "This project involves them in making decisions about water conservation for the first time.  


The associations have helped them manage irrigation. It's still controversial, but by the end of 1999 we expect 10,000 farmers will join associations." Eventually, 50 water-user associations, each comprising approximately 500 farmers, will be responsible for canal management and maintenance.  


Farmers now use less fertilizer, which has reduced runoff and pollution, Roark says. "We persuaded sugar beet factories to distribute less fertilizer to farmers and issue bulletins explaining how using less could be as effective" as the amount they were using before.  


Though at first some farmers were skeptical, buying more fertilizer to make up for the reduced allotment, fertilizer use eventually dropped by 25 percent.  


Integrated pest management -- which encourages use of less-poisonous pesticides, smaller doses of toxic chemicals, and natural pest predators that do not harm crops -- also cut pollution in the region's vast orange groves.  


Farmers received insect traps that helped them determine what types of insects were most invasive and when they were most active. Farmers were able to target their pesticide use as a result, ultimately shortening pesticide-application periods by two-thirds.  


A Valuable Commodity:  

To help farmers and government staff manage canal-systems more efficiently, project staff installed portable weirs -- small dams used to measure water flow in small canals.  


For larger canals, Chemonics International Inc. engineers installed permanent weirs equipped to measure water levels and flow. The regional government office used this data to better control water delivery. 


Chemonics engineers also developed a weather-related computer system that charts water needs according to rainfall and crop demands, and a computerized geographic information system (GIS) that tracks levels of water salinity and such groundwater pollutants as fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Chemonics International Inc. trained ORMVAT staff to efficiently use the GIS.  


Chemonics has also been working with the Moroccan government to reform water-use policies, laws, and regulations, efforts that led to legislation that supports improved water pricing.  


"We've helped the government look at water as a commodity, operate the irrigation systems on a commercial basis, and bring rates up to their full market value so that revenues will equal costs," Roark says.  


Chemonics International Inc. is also helping improve southwestern Morocco's water quality by introducing cost-effective wastewater treatment and alternatives to traditional crop farming.  


Under the USAID-funded Water Resources Sustainability joint venture between Chemonics International Inc. and ECODIT, an environmental assessment and design firm, three important pilot projects are investigating solutions to the problem of limited water and soil resources.  


A treatment facility in the city of Drarga will allow up to 200 cubic meters per day of wastewater from the city's 10,000 inhabitants to be reused for crop production or landscaping.  


When fully operational, the facility will clean wastewater using a series of lagoons, including one that will produce enough methane to generate the electricity needed to operate the plant.  


Designed to treat all effluent for a future population of 15,000, the facility's relatively low cost ($1.5 million) will make it attractive to other comparable communities in Morocco, explains Ed Rawson, Chemonics International Inc. project supervisor.  


Rawson adds that the plant, which begins operations this year, will lead to a "10 percent reduction in water-borne diseases after one year."  


In Fes, a government-operated treatment facility is allowing tanneries in the city's Dokkarat neighborhood to save money and prevent pollution by helping them remove and reuse chromium from their effluent.  


"The recycling project reduces chromium from tanneries to approximately 1 percent in the water effluent," says Rawson. "The resulting sludge can be reused for tanning as effectively and at a lower cost than new chromium."  


The treatment facility sells the recycled chromium to the tanneries at a price that equals the cost of recycling, making the process self-sustaining.  


A Chance for Recovery:  

A third pilot project is halting soil erosion caused by farming in Nakhla, where sediment has dangerously decreased the water-holding capacity of dams. Small dams now under construction will help stabilize erosion-caused ravines.  


In addition, strip-cropping -- where crops are planted on strips along slope contours -- also is slowing the flow of runoff from rain, and newly planted grasses and trees are helping recharge the groundwater aquifer while providing saleable fruit and fodder for livestock.  


"In all three projects, Chemonics International Inc. and ECODIT have successfully engaged all of the people with vested interests -- the farmers, tanners, treatment-plant managers, the community, and the government -- and kept them on board.  


That has been a real achievement," Rawson smiles. Now, he says, Morocco "is moving toward a water policy that will encompass more than agriculture" to include such issues as managing new water basins and enforcing environmental controls. 


Note:This information is provided courtsy of Chemonics International Inc. , a consulting firm based inWashington , DC with branches in Cairo and West Bank/Gaza. 


© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)

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