By Hana Namrouqa – May 17,2017

AMMAN — Unconventional water sources are the Kingdom’s long-term solution to its water dilemma, government officials said on Wednesday, indicating that increasing demand on water has exhausted surface and underground water sources.

Now that the Ministry of Water and Irrigation has utilised all available methods to meet the increasing demand for water, estimated at 21 per cent annually, it is now exploring seawater desalination and digging out water from deep aquifers, the officials indicated.

In addition to exploring “unconventional water resources”, the ministry is pressing ahead with its campaign to end violations on water networks and resources, ministry spokesperson Omar Salameh said, noting that retrieving lost water is equal to finding a new source of water, given the volume of water lost in violations on the network and resources.

Considering the project as the “cornerstone of all efforts to solve Jordan’s water scarcity”, the ministry sees the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Project (Red-Dead) as its everlasting solution to a shortage of water in Jordan.

Under the first phase, a total of 300 million cubic metres (mcm) of water will be pumped each year. In its following phases, the Red-Dead project will see up to 2 billion cubic metres of seawater transferred from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea annually, according to the ministry.

The Red-Dead project’s main components are a seawater intake structure; an intake pump station; a seawater pipeline; a desalination plant with a capacity of 65-85mcm per year; a desalination brine conveyance pipeline; two lifting pump stations; hydropower plants; and discharge facilities at the Dead Sea.

The seawater will be pumped out from an intake located in the north of the Gulf of Aqaba.

Authorities have already shortlisted five consortiums out of 17 that have shown interest in implementing the first stage, on a build, operate and transfer basis.

Saad Abu Hammour, Jordan Valley Authority secretary general and head of the project’s national steering committee, indicated that the project’s request for proposal (RFP) has been prepared and finalised.

The RFP will be distributed to the five shortlisted consortiums before the end of this month, Abu Hammour noted.

“Construction on the project’s first phase will commence before the end of the first half of next year,” he told The Jordan Times.

In addition to providing much needed water to Jordan, Palestine and Israel, the project has an ecological dimension as it seeks to stop the continuous diminishing of the Dead Sea, whose water level drops one metre each year, according to the ministry.

Another major scheme the ministry is now working on is Amman-Shidiyeh-Hassa Water Conveyance Project, according to Salameh, who noted that the project entails extracting water from very deep wells, located in the south between the Shidiyeh, Hassa and Qatraneh areas.

“The ministry has recently finalised the digging of exploration wells for the Amman-Shidiyeh-Hassa Water Conveyance Project,” Salameh told The Jordan Times.

Shidiyeh and Hassa are located in Tafileh Governorate, some 180km southwest of Amman, while Qatraneh is located in Karak Governorate, 140km south of the capital.

The project’s 10 exploration wells cost $500,000 each, according to the ministry, which announced recently that the project’s first phase’s tender will be floated this year, while the second phase’s tender will be floated in 2018.

The first phase will generate 20mcm of water, while the second phase will generate 50mcm, according to the ministry.

It seeks to supply the central region with water, the ministry said, indicating that the project’s two phases will cost $350 million.

In light of Jordan’s hosting of over 1.4 million Syrian refugees, demand for water has increased, especially in the north, where water per capita share has dropped by half since Syrian refugees began arriving in the country, according to the ministry.

As the water per capita share in the northern governorates of Jerash, Ajloun, Irbid and Mafraq has always been below the national average and has only exacerbated with the north hosting most of the Syrian refugees, the ministry announced last year a strategy to improve water supply in the north.

The 2016-2025 National Water Strategy indicates that the per capita share dropped from 147 cubic metres per year to 123 cubic metres per year since the start of the Syrian crisis.

“By the end of June, a total of 500 cubic metres of water per hour will start to reach the northern governorates via the National Water Carrier Project, designed to transfer 10mcm of water to the north annually to address the water shortage as part of the Disi Water Conveyance Project,” Salameh noted.

The Disi project conveys 100mcm annually from the ancient Disi aquifer in southern Jordan to the capital via a 325-kilometre pipeline. The project started pumping water to Amman in 2013.

“The national water carrier project is a mid-term solution to the country’s water crisis, but the desalination of Red Sea water under the Red-Dead project is the country’s long-term solution to water scarcity,” he underscored.

The revamping of wells across the country, particularly in the badia, is also ongoing, according to Salameh, who underscored that widening the coverage of wastewater services to link new areas to the sewage network also tops the ministry’s agenda.

“The ministry will have spent 1.3 billion dollars on water and wastewater projects between the year 2015 and the end of this year,” Salameh underscored.

He noted that the ministry this week launched implementation of the Wadi Al Arab Water Conveyance Project and a project to connect Hofa Reservoir to Beit Ras in Irbid, at a joint cost of around $133 million.

Wadi Al Arab Water Conveyance Project will secure the needs of the northern governorates’ residents, with a capacity of 30mcm. The $110-million-project will pump water from the King Abdullah Canal via a socket at a capacity of 45mcm, a water treatment station, in addition to four pumping stations and a main conveyor to move treated water to Irbid.

With the water sector consuming over 15 per cent of the country’s total power production, the ministry seeks to reduce the sector’s reliance on conventional energy sources. It announced last month that five of its main water pumping stations will operate on solar power by next year to reduce the water sector’s energy consumption.

Solar power plants will be built at the site of five major pumping stations, officials said, indicating that installation of the solar plants will be funded by a grant worth 30 million euros from the European Union.

The ministry is also tapping the potential of hydropower generation, according to its officials, who noted that hydropower is already being generated at a number of its projects.