In Jordan, desalination is major component in meeting rising demand for water

By Hana Namrouqa – Sep 10,2019

SAN DIEGO, California — Seawater desalination is the “only option” for countries seeking to become more resilient and have reliable water supply, according to an expert in water resource management, who stressed that water facilities should seek diversification of their water supplies.

While acknowledging that desalination of seawater is an expensive, highly technical and long process, the water resource management expert said that “… in some areas you have to make that investment because you just do not have the other sources of supply or resources that you can tap into.”

Jeremy Crutchfield, water resources manager at San Diego County Water Authority, said that by building a desalination plant in San Diego, the authority has a locally controlled supply in terms of quantity and pricing, and a “drought-proof supply coming from the Pacific Ocean”.

“Our weather here is beautiful but also crazy, we can go through long extended droughts, we have intense rainfall, and then you do not see rain for a long time, it is very hard to predict…” Crutchfield told a group of journalists participating in a tour on water, organised by the State Department’s Foreign Press Centre.

Desalination is expensive, however, the reliability component is what San Diego was seeking when it established the Claude Bud Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, north America’s largest, most technologically advanced and energy-efficient seawater desalination plant.

San Diego’s water authority buys all the water that is produced at the plant through a 20-year contract, Crutchfield said, noting that the plant is a 1-billion-dollar investment that includes the plant it self, the pipeline that brings the water from the plant to the county’s system and some modifications which had to be done on San Diego’s system to integrate desalinated water into the country’s aqueduct.

The plant daily delivers nearly 50 million gallons of fresh, desalinated water to San Diego County; enough to serve approximately 400,000 people and accounting for about one-third of all water generated in the county, according to the plant’s website, which also indicated that the project originated in 1998 and launched in 2015 with a purchase agreement with the San Diego County Water Authority.

“This is all done through public-private partnership (PPP). It [the plant] is one of the first PPP contracts for water infrastructure here in the US,” Crutchfield said, adding that “desalination does not happen overnight”.

“There were a lot of conceptual designs that needed to take place, you had to get financing in place, but the environmental reviews and the permits required… that is a long process…” Crutchfield said.

The water resource management expert underlined that water desalination is part of the solution to water scarcity, noting that diversification of water supply is key.

“It [desalination] is not a complete stopgap, it is not a saviour for water supply… you need to look at all of your options. In some areas, it is [going to] be your only option if you [want to] become more resilient and have that reliability… Every area is [going to] have a different ranking of [its] optimum or best supply option,” Crutchfield stated.

In Jordan, desalination of sweater and brackish water is a major component of the Kingdom’s strategy to meet the rising demand for water in light of drying water sources, shifting rainfall patterns due to changing climate and exploding population, according to an official at the Ministry of Water and Irrigation.

Official figures from the Ministry of Water and Irrigation indicate that Jordan has implemented desalination projects worth JD40 million which have generated 3,500 cubic metres of water per hour over the past three years.

The projects included the construction of new desalination plants and the rehabilitation of existing ones, on a build-operate-transfer basis, including the Mashtal Faisal Wells in Jerash Governorate, several wells in the northern region, Maan, Karak, the Jordan Valley and Aqaba, according to the ministry.

While the Kingdom’s first seawater desalination plant opened in Aqaba in March 2017 to produce 500 cubic metres per hour, Jordan eyes the implementation of the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance project as the “ultimate, long-term solution” to its water crisis, according to the official.

Jordan signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel and Palestine in December of 2013 to implement the first phase of the Red-Dead Project. Under the first phase, a total of 300mcm of water will be pumped each year, eventually transferring up to 2 billion cubic metres of seawater per year from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

A total of 85-100mcm of water will be desalinated every year, while the remaining seawater will be pumped out from an intake located in the north of the Gulf of Aqaba.

However, a senior government official told The Jordan Times previously that it was clear that Israel was no longer interested in the Red-Dead Project given repeated news reports casting doubt on its necessity, feasibility and agenda.

The government, nonetheless, announced in December 2018 that the Red-Dead Project was still on the agenda, despite Israeli procrastination.