Better alternative to the National Water Carrier

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Throughout my government service in developing the Jordan Rift Valley, international aid played a role in that effort (1973-1987). The Jordan Valley Authority and its predecessor the Jordan Valley Commission were the recipients of US Agency for International Development (USAID) lending programs. Even when its presence shrank, after 1967, to one American and one Jordanian, the agency applied the norms in its Handbook 11 in assessing each project it was called on to finance. اضافة اعلان

Topmost of its appraisal were the economic feasibility and social returns, as well as the environmental impact assessment, which was added later. Many capital projects were financed through grants between 1959 and 1967 and through soft loans thereafter. An important corollary of its involvement in the Jordan Valley development was to encourage many other development agencies to step in and participate in that government effort.

The program was very successful and worth the effort invested in it. I was thoroughly involved in its planning and implementation since 1973, but the driving forces were HRH Prince El Hassan Ben Talal and the chairman of the Jordan Valley Authority at the time, Omar Abdallah Dokhgan, who I succeeded in 1982.

More recently, I have heard statements by US officials, including USAID personnel, expressing support for the National Water Carrier even before the project was appraised for its economic and social feasibility and environmental soundness. While I want to thank USAID for its historical support of Jordan, I venture to question the wisdom of the early support for the National Water Carrier expressed by US officials.

In October last year, they hurriedly expressed advocacy for the Declaration of Intent of the UAE, Jordan and Israel, by which electrical energy generated in Jordan would be traded for Mediterranean water desalinated in Israel, provided, so goes the tripartite intent, the undertaking is feasible, which provision makes sense and applies to any and all capital investment projects.

My wonder is related to the deviation from the trend of assessing the feasibility condition when talking about Jordan’s National Water Carrier, whose name is copied from the major Israeli project conceived in 1952, implemented in stages and completed by 1964 with covert US financial assistance. The Israeli project pumped fresh Jordan River water from the northwest part of Lake Tiberias to Naqab.

I wonder why the US support for our carrier was enthusiastically expressed before studying its financial affordability, and social and environmental adequacy. USAID readiness to help Jordan is not new, and we owe them gratitude and thanks since the days of Point IV (the bill passed by Congress in 1952).

I claim that the Jordan carrier will burden the consumers and the Treasury, and that such burden could be avoided if the project is put on hold until nuclear fusion energy is perfected and commercialized. That is expected to take place by 2050 because the initial success of such generation has been recently announced by a fusion research laboratory in the Bay Area in California and by a similar laboratory in England. Before that happens, neither the consumers in Jordan nor the Treasury can afford to pay the cost of water desalinated on the Red Sea shore, whose brine could be dispensed with in an environmentally friendly way, and pumped to the north of the country.

The cost of these projects is high; to it should be added the cost of water distribution and of the unaccounted-for water. If the total cost of water per capita is more than 2.5 percent of one’s share of national income, a subsidy has to be afforded by the Treasury in order to pay the bill. Our Treasury is already burdened with debt service and is in no shape to subsidize consumer goods.

I have been advocating a better alternative: use the deep sandstone aquifer underlying most of the territory of our country as the source of water for the population.

I have assessed the adequacy of the alternative and it competes very well with the proposed national carrier. The depth of that aquifer is around one kilometer; its horizontal extent spans most of the country. If only the horizontal extent of the Badia is considered, at 67,000 sq. km, the volume of the sandstone layer would be about 67,000 cubic km. The voids in the sandstone vary between 15 percent and 37 percent of its volume. If the average of this range is considered, or 25 percent, the volume of water stored in the voids would be 17,000 cubic km, i.e., 17x1012 cubic meters.

As a lower middle income economy country, Jordan’s yearly water needs for municipal, industrial and food production purposes is 17x102 cubic meters per capita. If a population of 10 million people would rely on this aquifer, it would last them for 1,000 years. I am proposing to use it for only 30 years, until the new energy gets on line.

The attractiveness of this alternative, other than the volume of water, is that, in the areas where there is drilling data, the said aquifer is artesian, with an average of 700 meters artesian head. If the average drilling depth is one kilometer (as the data shows) the pumping head would be only 300 meters, much less than the head of about 550 meters needed for reverse osmosis desalination technology, not talking about the saving in equipment and hardware.

USAID advanced us a loan in 1978 to explore groundwater in the Jordan Rift Valley, which enabled us to quantify the renewable groundwater in Wadi Araba. Under it we discovered the northwest aquifer in 1982, especially at Wadi El Arab and Mukheiba. USAID could start to enable Jordan to assess the deep sandstone by adding to the 33 or so wells already driven into it in just the same way it assisted us in exploring the groundwater potential in the Jordan Rift Valley.

It could further entrust a non-politically guided consultant with comparing the cost of the alternative with the cost of the National Water Carrier before encouraging Jordan’s involvement in the latter.

The writer was minister of water and irrigation (1997-1988), president of the Jordan Valley Authority (1982-1987) and vice president of the Jordan Valley Authority (1973-1982).

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