By Hana Namrouqa – Feb 23,2016

AMMAN — Around 110 million cubic metres (mcm) of water have been saved since authorities launched a national crackdown on water theft in 2013, government officials said on Tuesday.

Water Minister Hazem Nasser said in a statement e-mailed to The Jordan Times that sealing illegal wells and stopping attempts to dig new ones across the country have resulted in saving 80mcm of underground water over the past three years.

“International studies indicate that water levels at several aquifers have been dropping 1 metre per year… studies also indicate that more than 50mcm of underground water are being extracted in indiscriminate pumping,” Nasser said in the statement.

In addition, the ongoing campaign to end violations on water networks and resources has succeeded in saving 30mcm of freshwater that was being diverted from main carriers, the minister noted.

“The campaign to regain control over our water resources and networks is a milestone in protecting the Kingdom’s water resources, which have been suffering from severe exploitation,” Nasser noted.

Omar Salameh, the ministry’s spokesperson, told The Jordan Times that calculations of how much water has been saved since the start of the national campaign relied on several inputs, including the terrain of land irrigated with underground water, the type of crops planted and the capacity of pipelines.

Since the launch of the campaign, the ministry has dismantled 21,037 illegal fixtures on water mains and resources, sealed 722 illegal wells and seized and confiscated 39 drilling rigs, according to official figures.

The ministry banned the drilling of wells in 1997 to limit random pumping of water and preserve aquifers from depletion and salinity.

“Estimates indicate that there are 1,100-1,200 illegal wells across the country,” the ministry statement said.

In January alone, the ministry and security forces removed 559 violations on water networks, sealed nine illegal wells, seized and confiscated a drilling rig and referred several suspects for legal action.

Authorities also recorded 122 violations last month on the King Abdullah Canal, which entailed theft of the canal’s fence and protection systems and illegally pumping out water.

The 110km King Abdullah Canal, which is supplied by the Yarmouk River, irrigates 40 per cent of the crops in the Jordan Valley and provides some 40 per cent of the capital’s water after it is treated at the Zai Water Treatment Plant.

“The ministry is paying hundreds of thousands of dinars every month to implement this ongoing campaign as it entails the deployment of technical teams, new technologies and heavy machinery to remove violations,” Nasser noted.

He said the Jordan Valley Authority is also spending JD500,000 every year to replace and install new fences, security systems and warning signs on King Abdullah Canal and the dams.

The amended Water Authority of Jordan Law stipulates stiffer penalties against those who abuse any element of the water system.

Those who abuse water carriers and mains, wastewater, pumping, purification or desalination stations; cause the pollution of water resources, pipes or stations used for drinking water; or dig or are involved in the digging of wells without obtaining a licence, face a prison sentence of up to five years and fines up to JD7,000.

In addition, violators of water and wastewater projects are jailed for up to three years and fined up to JD5,000, according to the amendments.

All penalties stipulated under the law are doubled in the case of repeat offences.
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