Dry southern dams, shortage of irrigation water plague farmers

1. WALA DAM (Photo General Equipmemts Co)
Wala Dam (Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — At the end of the winter season, the Jordanian Meteorological Department issued a report showing a rise in the cumulative amount of rainfall, which reached 53.1 percent overall, but a decrease in the southern regions of the Kingdom, which only got 40 to 60 percent of the needed water. اضافة اعلان

The water shortage affects farmers who have been complaining of lack of water for irrigation and government inaction vis-à-vis their plight.

“They clearly do not want us to grow anything in this country,” Aisha Alhawatmeh, a farmer in the Theban Plains said, criticizing the Water Ministry’s decision to prevent famers from getting water from the Wala Dam this year.

The ministry, she said, stopped the agreements with the farmers, which it used to renew yearly, adding that the decision was taken in order to preserve the dam.

Farmers say the decision was taken after the ministry signed, in 2020, an agreement with the Military Retirees Association to grow feed in the area, which obliges the ministry to provide them with water from the dam, to the detriment of the farmers.

Secretary-General of the Jordan Valley Authority Manar Mahasneh said that the farmers never had an agreement with the ministry, but “we let them use water before, now due to the dam’s situation, we cannot”.

She added that the deal with the Military Retirees Association has nothing to do with the issue, that the project has not even started yet because the association did not meet all the requirements.

Alhawatmeh said that in 2020 she planted 2,000 acres, in 2021 could only plant 600 acres and this year she stopped the entire project, keeping only the 15 hydroponics plastic houses she owns, for which she buys water, at JD25 per tank, “to save her project”.

The Meteorological Department report shows “very low” southern dam capacity. Of these, those whose water is for irrigation and industrial uses are Tannur dam, filled at less than 1 percent, Karak and Lajjun dams, about 12 percent each, and Zarqa Ma’in dam, with 13.6 percent. Of the dams whose water is used for drinking and irrigation, Mujib holds only 3.3 percent of its capacity, while Wala dam 13.6 percent.

According to Mahasneh, the reasons for the shortage in southern dams are many; “one of them, for sure, is the low cumulative rainfall, as the report shows”.

The issue, she said, is not a new; some of these dams “have not been filled to capacity for the past years due to climate change”.

The solution to “save 40 percent of each dam’s capacity, as some experts suggest”, is not reasonable, she said, since “we are in need of every drop of this water. We already are short of water, and we cannot deprive farmers of 40 percent of their water needs.”

“Some measures were taken to preserve the dams’ water; for example, last August we stopped using Mujib water in order for it not to dry out, but due to evaporation and to the irrigation of Jordan Valley Authority projects, it will most probably dry out before the next water season starts,” Mahasneh said.

According to Dureid Mahasneh, a hydrology and marine sciences expert, pausing using the water in Mujib dam “will contribute to saving the natural reserve and the tourism sites in that area”.

Saving 40 percent of each dam’s capacity, on the other hand, is not possible “due to the commitments of the ministry to the industries, such as the Arab Potash Company, where a meter of water is sold by the ministry for JD0.5 to JD0.7”, he said.

Regarding rainfall, Dureid Mahasneh said that even though the cumulative amount was considered “good” this winter season, “in order for the dams to be filled, we need to have overflow creating floods around the feeding channels of the dam, and this we did not have”.

Dams do not usually “fill in one year’s rainfall season”, he said, adding that “we have been experiencing dry years and one season cannot fix that entirely’’.

Farmers like Alhawatmeh had asked the ministry if they could build artesian wells or use water from existing wells, but the request was rejected.

Some farmers switched to crops that consume less water while awaiting some solution, she said.

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