Jordan’s Quest for Safe Water Reuse
Jordan is one of the MENA countries facing severe water shortages. The rampant increase in water demand by the municipal sector and the large consumptive use of water by agriculture are definitely beyond the country’s water budget. This gap between water supply and demand is only expected to widen over the coming years. Water reuse has been a key solution to contribute to bridge this gap. Although water reuse in agriculture is a vital solution, the adoption of water reuse solutions at large scale face various challenges. ReWater MENA project contributes to overcoming these challenges through participatory processes that involve key players in the water reuse sector in Jordan including representatives from the academia, government institutions, user associations and donor organizations.
In this context, the ReWater MENA National Steering Committee in Jordan, with representatives from key ministries and institutions, met five times in the last three years. The 5th meeting was held at the Royal Scientific Society (RSS) premises on the 30th of November 2021, and was attended by all members of the steering committee, including representatives from the Ministries of Environment, Water and Irrigation, Health, and Agriculture RSS and IWMI to discuss a proposed policy draft to promote safe water reuse in Jordan based on scientific-evidence and insights that were collected from two local sites. Where a baseline was conducted for the area in Wadi As-Seir and the Northern Jordan Valley to assess the potential impact of treated wastewater on soil and irrigation water qualities.
The RSS team shared the latest results of the project’s concerning the long-term impacts of water reuse in Jordan Valley, where some significant trends in soil chemistry and pharmaceutical compounds have been noticed. A glimpse on these results can be summarized in the following points: as expected, the salinity of treated wastewater (EC) is higher than that of freshwater; the pH of treated water is not significantly different from that of freshwater; and pharmaceutical residues in treated wastewater are significantly higher than in freshwater. Regarding soil quality, the results indicated that there is no significant adverse impact of long term treated water reuse on: soil pH, boron and heavy metals. Nevertheless, the results indicated that there is significant adverse impact of long-term treated water reuse on soil salinity (especially in the subsoil), on nitrate in topsoil and pharmaceutical residues.
During the meeting, the RSS team also presented result on antibiotic resistance genes and mobile genetic elements in treated wastewater. Both components are a major concern for many countries that aim to expand water reuse in agriculture because of the potential risk of spreading antimicrobial resistance and risk to human health. The tests conducted by the RSS revealed no significant differences on the occurrence of antibiotic resistant genes and mobile genetic elements between freshwater and irrigation water in the studied sites. However, mobile genetic elements were detected in soil samples that were irrigated with reused water from more than 10 years.
Because of the identified long-term risks there is a need to adopt an inclusive policy that aims to mitigate the harmful impacts related to long-term water reuse for irrigation. The pillars of this policy were summarized by Eng. Husam Haj Ali (RSS) in the following points:
- The policy must adopt a comprehensive water resource management approach (from source to user) including water reuse as an integral part of the water budget in Jordan.
- The policy should promote clear legislative and institutional frameworks to avoid gaps or overlaps in roles and responsibilities.
- The policy must emphasize the need for continuous technology adoption, research and development components.
- The policy should ensure availability of water information and data quality assurance.
Public awareness and social acceptance are key pillars for successful policy implementation.
Finally, for these findings and recommendations to translate to policy that directs the water sector in Jordan into safer water reuse in agriculture, there is a need for a multi-sectoral effort to endorse such recommendations with a deep understanding of the critical role that water reuse play in maintaining the agricultural sector sustainability in Jordan.