The IWMI Rewater MENA project team recently visited a number of stakeholders in Lebanon to explain the project’s objectives, outputs and potential benefits. During this visit, the team visited two wastewater treatment facilities in the Bekaa region of Lebanon. The objective was to meet the managers, understand how the facilities are operated, and assess their potential for the development of sustainable water reuse systems for irrigation. The visits were conducted in collaboration with the Litani River Authority (LRA) and Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI). More stakeholders, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, the Bekaa Water Establishment, municipalities and farmers, will also be involved in selecting two project sites and developing successful re-use models.
Litani River Authority Constructed Wetland
The Upper Litani River Basin, which drains most of the Bekaa agricultural area, is experiencing an unprecedented pollution problem, part of which is due to the limited number of treatment facilities or to management problems in the existing ones. This pushes farmers to irrigate from heavily polluted water courses such as the Litani River. In this context, many governmental and international organizations have been targeting the wastewater sector in the Bekaa in the past decade.
Among these initiatives, a 2.5-ha Reedbed wetland was implemented in 2012 next to the Litani River to treat part of the Litani’s heavily polluted water. This was done with the support of a project funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) project in collaboration with the Litani River Authority (LRA), a public institution that manages a number of irrigation schemes, and also conducts quantitative and qualitative water monitoring in the Basin. The constructed wetland is designed in a way to receive water from the river but also from a large wastewater treatment plant located some 50 meters upstream, in Joub Jannine village.
After undergoing so-called natural treatment in the wetland, the treated water goes back to the Litani, where it is mixed again with pollutants. A few kilometres downstream, the river discharges into Qaraoun dam, Lebanon’s biggest artificial reservoir, today heavily polluted. Downstream from the wetland, farmers were commonly observed to pump water from the Litani and irrigate their vegetable crops in the summer, a practice that is harmful to the quality of crops to be sold in the markets. If this is selected as a project site, the ReWater MENA together with LRA, farmers and other institution, will be assessing the potential of developing a safe reuse system. The idea would be to convey and distribute the treated water to farmers’ plots downstream. This would not only replace the irrigation from the river but also from groundwater that is heavily exploited in this area. The approach intends to integrate socio-economic feasibility studies but will also work on governance options with managers and users, including water allocation and cost-recovery mechanisms.
Ablah Wastewater treatment plant a reuse system
Ablah is another village of the Bekaa that was visited by the ReWater MENA team as a potential project site. It is located in Central Bekaa, a highly populated region that concentrates a large number of industrial and agricultural activities. There too, a large share of domestic and industrial sewage goes untreated to the Litani River and other of its tributaries, such as the famous Berdaouni River of Zahle.
Ablah Wastewater treatment plant, also implemented by a USAID funded project, is considered one of the better functioning treatment facilities in the Bekaa. It is small in capacity (treating 1,300-1,500 m3 of water / day) and is managed by Ablah municipality. A wastewater engineer is responsible for the operation and maintenance activities and the costs are covered by the municipality who collects yearly fees from the residents. The facility is located on the right bank of the Litani River and collects domestic sewage from Ablah and Nabi Ayla villages. It is surrounded by an agricultural area, where farmers mostly grow grape vines. Farmers commonly irrigate from wells but groundwater is scarce in this alluvial aquifer and water levels are increasingly dropping. These conditions favoured the development of an initiative aiming at using Ablah treated effluents for irrigation.
Three years ago, an EU project, in collaboration with Ablah municipality, implemented a reservoir to collect the treated water and built a distribution network covering an area of 200 du (20 ha) planted with grape vines. 33 farmers were able to irrigate their vines from the network during the irrigation season. According to the engineer in charge, the experience was very successful. Farmers were able to replace or supplement their use of groundwater and some noted a significant increase in their crop yields. These results were supported by a research experiment conducted by LARI in collaboration with farmers who used the network. However this experience was also subject to a number of problems. The first and most important was the negative impact that was experienced by some residents, who complained about the collection reservoir’s bad smell. Another one is that some farmers, particularly those located at the end of the distribution network, did not receive adequate supply.
Fortunately, these issues have recently been resolved and Ablah municipality intends to resume the use of the system in 2019 and also rehabilitate and extend the irrigation network. IWMI ReWater MENA team will look closely to the past and ongoing efforts of this experience, identify the factors of success and failures, and build on them for scientific exchange and for the development of re-use models in other sites.
Agriculture land using treated waste water from Ablah waste water treatment plant, Ablah, Lebanon